Saturday, 8 December 2012

The Way Home

 In the end, I spent three extra days at the South Pole. The receiver started to cool down early in the week and I continued to work on preparing the readout electronics.  But in the evenings, the entire team took the time for a little recreation.  On Wednesday, the weather was beautiful.  The temperature was around -26 C (-15 F) with no wind.  It was time for a sauna to pole run.   The name is pretty self-explanatory.  You go sit in the sauna (yes, there is a sauna at the south pole) and then run outside to the geographic pole.  When the winterovers make this run, they join the legendary 300 club (i.e. its 300 degrees temperature difference between the sauna and the pole).   We didn't come anywhere near the 300 club, but did get near the 200 mark.  The weather was so nice out we were just strolling around enjoying ourselves.  Several people in the group ended up sprinting to the ceremonial pole as well. 

The next day, the traverse had an open house.  Originally, they had planned on moving on by then, but needed to spend some time making repairs.  We took a tour through the housing and generator modules and looked at the tractors.  It was all very impressive.  There are only 10 people total on the traverse.  Eight drive the big tractors, and two drive a smaller machine that goes in front with the ground penetrating radar. 
 It turns out that they actually drive up a glacier to cross the Transantarctic mountains! 
 On the way back from visiting the traverse, I took a picture of this switch.  I've walked by it many times, and I always find it a little funny.  I wonder how much of the station would actually lose power if it were flipped. 
Over the course of the week, the rest of the structure for the new ground shield was put in place on the telescope.  That crew still has a lot of welding to do in the coming weeks, but this first step is done!
I ended up leaving the South Pole on a late flight Friday night.  The whole gang came out to say goodbye.
 The Transantarctic mountains were just as beautiful the second time around.  The day wasn't quite as clear, but this time I was able to go back and forth between both side windows on the plane to see both views. 
 The Herc was a lot more empty this time, just us passengers and a few bags!

 I did get a special treat at the end of the flight. Two of us got invited up into the cockpit for landing at the Pegasus airfield in McMurdo.   We even got to wear headphones and listen to the pilots.  It was amazing to see the plane banking and turning with respect to the ground from the front (as opposed to just feeling it while riding in the back).  The Pegasus airfield is about an hour away from McMurdo and is now in use because the Sea Ice Runway is too thin.  Pegasus is surrounded by mountains, and the view from the cockpit was breathtaking as we were coming in.  The first thing I noticed coming from the South Pole is how much there is to look at around McMurdo.  At the pole, you get used to the vast nothing and flatness to the horizon.  Here there are mountains, different colors of rocks, dirt, pressure ridges in the ice, many more buildings, animals, and tons of people.   The second thing I noticed is how warm it is!  The temperature has been around 1 degree C (34 F).   We got into town a little before 3 am, so I've spent the past day just relaxing and catching up on sleep. 

I did manage to catch a ride out to the Long Duration Balloon Facility yesterday to see the EBEX experiment.  EBEX is another telescope that is trying to observe the polarization of the Cosmic Microwave Background.  They are flying their telescope on a long duration balloon (it will last about 2 weeks) to get above the atmosphere.    If you're interested in reading more about EBEX and seeing some pictures check out the EBEX blog:

My flight to Christchurch is scheduled for tomorrow at 10 am.  If all goes as planned, I'll be home in a couple days.

1 comment:

  1. All of the work that goes into making these stations function so scientists like yourself can do your work is truly remarkable. This blog really shows how the work of scientists is important to human knowledge and fun at the same time.