Antarctic Astronomy Diaries 2003/04

   

   
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04 December 2003

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Get back

By the time I was out of bed this morning, a Twin Otter was already on its way from the coast, and the South African Hercules C130 was lifting off from Christchurch airport in preparation for meeting us in Terra Nova Bay. Breakfast was quiet and a little sad, as five of us got ready to leave, and people started to say their goodbyes.

The morning was, however, brightened by the appearance of Geanpiero in his custom-modified overalls. But before I can tell this story I must first sketch out some of the background...

One or the more bizarre things that Anna brought with her were a pair of bright yellow slippers, each adorned with a huge, fluffy pink and yellow flower. Younger readers would immediately identify them as something from Austin Powers; more mature readers would immediately identify them as belonging to a level of flower-power kitsch to which the Sixties never actually descended, but probably should have. Anna's feet became, of course, the most readily recognisable on the Station, and it was naturally only a matter of time before some fiend committed the dastardly act of...hiding them.

Without slippers, and in this cold weather, corns become a serious risk. This nameless fiend, whom we shall call Geanpiero in the interests both of brevity and accuracy, should have remembered his Shakespeare: "Hell hath no fury like a woman corned..."

Retribution was swift and dramatic, which brings us to this morning. Hanging in their usual place in the storage room were Geanpiero's Extreme Cold Weather work overalls, but sewn to the front were the two 15 cm diameter flowers that had until recently been a major feature of a well-known pair of slippers. I will leave it to the reader to imagine how they were placed, but suffice it to say they would have been adequate to maintain the complete decency of even the most buxom night-club dancer.

Geanpiero took it very well. Whatever else he knows about astronomy, he's also learned: never mess with an instrument scientist.

The other bit of excitement this morning was that I received an email just after breakfast from Michael A. to the effect that the web camera was misaligned and basically just pointing at a bunch of shadows. This was fortunately a very easy thing to fix, but nevertheless important to do if we are to maintain the interest and loyalty of our many web camera devotees around the world. After all, you can look at shadows anywhere. With the Twin Otter just landing, I had about half an hour to fix it.

Of course, what should have been a five minute job turned into a major production. First, there was no snowmobile available, so I had to walk out to the AASTINO. Second, when I got there and plugged Ding-dong into the AASTINO Ethernet, Microsoft's Internet Explorer refused to launch properly. (Why do computers hate me so much? I think I asked this question earlier, but have yet to receive a satisfactory answer.) Anyway, I eventually got the web browser to run, looked at an image and, of course, the camera was perfectly aligned. I even put my hand in front of the lens and took another picture, just to be sure. Maybe it was just one of Michael's little jokes - I guess I've played enough tricks on him over the years that he owes me one.

Half running, half walking back to the Station, I was whisked aboard the Twin Otter and off we went. Unfortunately I did not have time to say goodbye to most of the Dome C villagers, though a few of the village elders came out to the plane to see us off.

As we accelerated down the ski-way, Anna found herself wiping tears away from her cheeks. If you have ever been to Antarctica you will understand why.

Just 13 hours later we were in Christchurch. The five-hour Twin Otter flight to the coast seemed to just disappear, punctuated only by the refuelling stop at Mid-Point Charlie that gave us a chance to stretch our legs, have a cappuccino and wander around the souvenir shops (actually, we were only able to do one of those three activities). We would spend less than an hour at Terra Nova Bay, making a very quick visit to the main station and accreting 41 Italians to our little party of five before returning to the ice run-way to board the Hercules for Christchurch.

Halfway to New Zealand, the sun set. We probably could have predicted that (being astronomers and all), but it still came as a surprise. It was the first darkness we'd seen in three weeks, the first stars, the first night-time. There's so much we normally take for granted.

This brings to an end my Antarctic diaries for the 2003 - 4 Summer season. The further adventures of the University of NSW team can be followed on:

http://www.phys.unsw.edu.au/astro/southpole2004

John

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