April at the South Pole

Saturday, 1 April 2006
I didn't want to miss Clayton's Breakfast Burritos, so I tried not to sleep in too late. I got down to the galley about an hour after they had started serving. Alasdair and Clayton were taking the orders. There was one space left at the one long table that folks were sitting at. I joined Erik, Liesl, Fat Bob, and a number of others. Bob had skipped the burritos in favor of some cold Prime Rib from the other night. From brunch, I went down to B2 to check on the detector, then grabbed my ECW and headed out to MAPO. There was a nice soft glow on the horizon, clear skies and plenty of light to walk by. I could see another group five minutes ahead of me, too far ahead to catch up to. I reached the building, got inside, and hung up my gear. The group was already upstairs, listening to Robert's spiel about QUaD and the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB). I listened a bit as I worked on some stuff on my side of the room, but later, when Erik was getting the tour, I tagged along. We went down the hall to the room with all their gear in it. QUaD is built on the same motion platform as its predecessor, DASI, but with a new telescope. Robert, Erik, and I crawled around inside the equipment area, and since my legs were dangling down the hole, I could feel the telescope slew along the azimuth. It was just fast enough to perceive, but slow enough that it felt like we were standing still and the room below was rotating. Erik had to cut things short to get back to the Station, leaving Robert and I to suit up and walk to DSL on our own.

Once you are already out at MAPO, DSL isn't that much further, maybe a 5 minute walk. Robert pointed out Sirius and Canopus, the only two stars that are bright enough to see right now. As we approached the stairs to DSL, Cryo Mark came zipping up on a snow machine with a dewar of Helium for Bicep. I continued on inside while Robert helped Mark get the dewar up the stairs. Inside, Denis was just finishing up the tour with the batch of folks that had previously been at MAPO. I waited for him to start over, occupying my time by reading a textbook of his, written by a Professor of Radio Astronomy from Ohio State. One of the telescopes on the cover was OSU's "Big Ear", which I happened to visit years ago, shortly before it was turned into a golf course. I poked my head around the corner when Denis was demonstration how he measures the fluid level in the helium dewars - he has this long, thin tube, no more than a couple millimeters in diameter, with a flare on one end that resembles a minature trumpet mouthpiece. He lowers the tube into the dewar, and hovers his thumb over the flare. When the frequency of the chuffing air column in the tube doubles, the tip of the tube is very near the surface of the helium. By attaching a clip to the tube, he can determine how much of the tube is inside the dewar, thus revealing the liquid level. Since it's hard to tell how a puff of air feels when one is standing in a crowd an arm's length away, Denis placed a rubber glove tip over the flare, and we could watch it pulse. Very cool.

Once the previous group left, Denis gave me an abbreviated but personal tour of his telescope. We went up on the roof and peered inside the ground sheild, then went back inside where he pointed out all the major components of the scope and its mountings. I already knew how a bolometer works (one of the individual sensors deep inside Bicep), but what I didn't know was how sensitive to vibration they are. Denis had me jump up and land hard just so we could watch the effect on Bicep. I was amazed at how much signal deflection there was from one thump. When he'd exhausted the telescope topics, we turned to webcams. He showed me the one he has watching the horizon, and I showed him my EarthDial camera that was also watching the horizon (since there's no longer any direct sunlight to cast a shadow on the EarthDial itself).

The afternoon was wearing on, so I suited up and walked back to the station with Denis. We talked about how the sky was going to change over the next few weeks, how much light there is to walk in the middle of winter (between the moon and starlight/auroral light, it's only really pitch dark when it's overcast. The rest of the time, there's usually enough light to see where you are stepping without having to resort to a headlamp). Once back inside, I returned to my desk in B2 and got on the 'net. I didn't have much of a chance to get into things before there was an all call announcing that dinner was ready. I trotted down to the galley to an amazing spread of grilled steak, chicken, lamb, and hot dogs. I sat with Liesl and Bob, where we discussed the answer to the question "who in history would you most like to have a discussion with?" My first answers were folks like Leonardo DaVinci and Archimedes. Liesl said that she would like to talk to the "peaceful souls" like Gandhi, the Budda, and such.

After dinner, I went back to B2 to check on things, then back to the galley when I heard the all call that "Dessert and a Movie" was starting. Dan and George pulled fresh apple pie out of the oven to accompany, what else, "American Pie". I watched a bit of it then wandered away to make another check on things. When I came back to the galley, there was a thin sliver of reflected sunlight just peeking out at the horizon behind the Pole. I fetched my camera and the long lens and snapped a few nice pictures of what's probably the last we'll see of the sun for another five months. A few of us hung around and watched the next two "American Pie" movies as the sun danced up and down then finally down for the night.

Sunday, 2 April 2006
I fiddled around on the computer until GOES dropped, then crashed. Had some strange dreams, like waiting around in the Green Room to go on stage for my cue for a bit part in "As You Like It". Very odd. It being Sunday, when I woke up, the only thing on my schedule was the "2@2" Team 2 lecture and a movie. I went down to the B3 lounge right at 14:00, but nobody was there yet. Thinking there might have been a change in venue, I checked my e-mail, but yes, B3 was the right place. By the time I returned, some other folks had showed up. Joe handed around a pull station and an electrical release for the fuel valves in the pump house. I didn't know it, but one of the fire suppression devices is a set of spring-loaded lever arms that cut off flow from the fuel arch in case of a fire in the area. These devices blow, allowing the lever to make a 180° swing from full open to full shut. Liesl told us the one time they went off, the springs are so strong that the levers cut through a pipe that had been accidentally placed in the arc. After the lecture (and a promise to set off a spare device next week), we watched "The Atomic Bomb Movie", a great documentary on the development of nuclear weapons from the 1940s through the 1960s. Plenty of footage of early tests, including some of the set-up footage, not just the detonation.

After the movie, it was still a little early for the 'net to come up. I tidied up around our area of B2 until Marisat rose. I was only on for a couple of minutes when things dropped. I went off to grab some food - the carpenters had volunteered to cook. Dinner was choice of Lamb or Flank Steak, with Grilled Asparagus, Instant Mashed Potatoes, Carrots, and Kumara. While we ate, there were a couple of all calls about the state of the 'net. Most of the way through dinner, the final all call was that the sat was back up. I popped back down to my desk in B2 and caught Erin online just before she went to bed. After she signed off, I sorted tax papers for a couple of hours, then stopped by the galley on my way to my room. There were no slivers of sun to be found, but there was plenty of glow on the horizon. The place was nearly empty, just Safety Bill making a cup of tea, and Johan reading on the couch. I made my own cup of tea and took it to my room. I tried to get a few things done on the computer but was too tired to last very long

Monday, 3 April 2006
I woke up a bit after breakfast and checked my e-mail from my room, on the lookout for any emergencies. Nothing was on fire; I went down to my desk in B2 to find a foil-wrapped slice of cheese labeled "Happy Cheese Weasel Day!". Considering Sarah is not here this winter, it could only be the work of Victoria. I worked through the morning, then took my cheese down to the galley for lunch. On the menu today was Pot Roast, Green Beans, Mashed Potatoes, with Clam Chowder in the soup kettle. I spooned out a little of everything and sat with Liesl. The table cleared shortly after I sat down; only Dainella stayed. Dan the Tin Knocker joined us; he had several computer questions which I did my best to answer. I left with the rest of the table when they all went back to work, but I was still craving something sweet. I went back to the galley and nabbed a slice of Boysenberry Ice Cream Pie and sat with Lane and Victoria. We swapped a number of stories (all new to me, no repeats yet), then went back to work.

I had a number of things to get done out at MAPO this afternoon. I grabbed my ECW gear and headed out. I was glad I brought my camera along - there were a few thin clouds near the horizon that caught slivers of the departed sun nicely. It was a bit of a brisk walk, -85.5°F (-65.3°C), 9 knots; a bit colder than I'm used to this early in the winter, but not bad. MAPO was empty when I got there. I swapped tapes, dumped the power quality monitor, then took the opportunity to bring my EarthDial inside. Fortunately, Craig was on his rounds and arrived just in time to help me pull the pipe off the bracket. My next stop was the TCH. I stopped half-way there to take some pictures of the buildings in the Dark Sector in the fading light. Jupiter was looking especially nice and bright over MAPO. Out at the TCH, I dumped the power quality monitor and checked on the memory tests running on one of the spare boxes. Everything looked normal, and I was about to head back when Mike the Carpenter came by. He was pulling the "Screamin' Eagle" out of the BARFF to give the other carps a ride back to the station and wanted to offer me a ride back, too. I was happy for the chance - we get to walk out and back often enough that a ride is a nice treat. We stopped by DSL and picked up a full load - Alisdair, Tracy, Rechelle, Mike the Electrician, and Phil. Nobody spoke the entire way back - we just cruised along, bumping up and down with the sastrugi. Back at the station, everybody piled out and Mike drove off to park down in the new Garage.

It was still a few minutes until dinner, and the sats were up. I chatted with Erin for a bit, then headed off to eat. Dinner was Roast Chicken and a few sides. I ate with Doc Will, then stopped off at my desk for a few minutes before Robert's Astronomy Lecture. The conference room was full, as usual. Tonight's topic was the lifecycle of stars. I wasn't the only one finding it hard to stay awake in the dark. The material is interesting and Robert presents it well, but it's just so easy to drift off. After the lecture, I caught up with a few things at my desk, then headed off to my room to read and catch some ZZs.

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