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South Pole Blog

Collected here are writings from previous trips to the South Pole. Posts are in reverse chronological order.

Previous blog posts from the old Blogger site can be found here.

These pages are under construction — I am currently bringing older writing in a variety of formats into this blog… please stay tuned!

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Broken Glasses

Thursday, Feb. 12 2009 6 a.m. UTC

South Pole Telescope

Less than 30 hours to go before we leave, and time is whipping by so fast my ears are starting to ring. As always, the last few days are the big crunch time due to the fact that we have to wait for our holes to freeze completely before turning on new strings.

Just a few hours ago we ran the first successful test with all 59 deployed strings. It was very touch and go for awhile since several things didn’t work properly at first, but now it looks good and it’s a big relief – the climax of the third act.

As our test was running, we traipsed out in -50F (-75F windchill) to the Dark Sector for a tour of the South Pole Telescope. IceCube and SPT are the 'big two’ at South Pole and it was very cool to see the other one. Like IceCube, SPT is a simple device by the standards of modern physics (compared with detectors at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, for example) but the SPT folks are doing very exciting, fundamental physics, using galactic clusters to probe the role of Dark Energy in the evolution of the Universe. (Not only is the science exciting, but their device makes a cool sound while it’s running, unlike the IceCube counting house which just sounds like any old data center.)

Back in the station and running our final tests now. There is enough time to finish our tests, sleep a bit, pack and get out of here — barely. A great season, though. If it’s the last time I come here I will feel good about it, even though I haven’t gotten out of doors much, at least in comparison with my earlier seasons.

The biggest technical glitch of the summer seems to have been the breaking of my glasses this morning out at SPT. I have a spare pair, but they are too geeky even for me. But, if looking like an uber-geek is the sacrifice to be paid for getting 19 new IceCube strings commissioned and running, I guess I’m willing to pay it.

Home Sweet Home

Heading out to SPT


SPT and the Dark Sector Lab

Martin A. Pomerantz Observatory

Timo and Tilo during the tour

Doin’ the SPT Shuffle

The Roof Opens

Winter-over Erik Descends from the roof of the DSL

Night shift on top of the Dark Sector Lab

Night shift at the South Pole.

More pictures

End of the Second Act

Friday, Feb. 6 2009 6 a.m. UTC

Station as seen through the window of the Ford Gran Neutrino

Almost exactly one week to go, for me. It is sort of the end of the second act, when you think you know what is going to happen, but surprises can still occur, and the final conflict has yet to sort itself out.

Things are going smoothly enough that we (the night crew) were able to watch “The Big Lebowski” in the B1 lounge after midnight. Those who got up early were able to see the Super Bowl (at breakfast, I caught the amazing play just before half-time, which was enough football for me, and got to watch all the Springsteen-style Americana with my German, Dutch and New Zealand colleagues). I cannot actually remember the last time I saw a Super Bowl in the US… but they are entertaining to see here, because of all the Armed Forces Network commercials in between plays, tempting people to reinlist. Hmmm…. Army, Navy or Marines? So many choices….

Actually, it really is like being on a very roomy and safe aircraft carrier in some ways. I haven’t been outside except to poke my head out on the upper deck for a couple of days. When planes land here, comms broadcasts the announcement that “the aircraft is on-deck.” And then there are the two-minute 'Navy’ showers, which I am actually feeling used to. Though I could get used to a hot bath pretty quickly. Fortunately nobody is shooting at us, the pay is better (for some of us, anyways), we don’t have to salute, and, for us summer folks, the tour of duty is mercifully short.

Though at times uncomfortable and stressful, this trip has been quite vivid in a way, with almost a sort of real-time nostalgic feel to it. I feel peaceful about the likelihood that it’s the last time I’ll be here, and I find myself noticing the texture of the station floor, the views out the windows, the galley food, the unwashed heads of hair, the grumbling in my stomach and the smiles in the hallways of people I’ve seen year after year, whose names I have never learned.

Pigs and Fish

Wednesday, Feb. 4 2009 6 a.m. UTC

There is a short list of adventures one can have in the US Antarctic program. You can experience landing in the cockpit of a C-130 (done it). You can fly over the crater of Mt. Erebus (done it). You can go to 'Happy Camper’ school and learn how to sleep in your own snow- or ice-shelter (never done it). Here at Pole you can ski out to the 'Love Shack’ a few miles from the Station (never done it). You can do an outdoor hot tub in -30F and feel your hair freeze solid (done it). One thing I’d never done until tonight was go down into the utility tunnels underneath the station. I’ll let the pictures tell most of the story, including the temperature (-60F). It was really cool! (And cold.) Afterwards we had a sauna, followed by the Midrats Season Finale with Filet Mignon, seafood skewers, stuffed portabella mushrooms, sushi, chocalate chip cookie chocolate sandwiches, and upside down peach cherry pie.

Life isn’t all bad at the South Pole.

Suiting up to hit the tunnels

Tunnel crew

I wish I owned this sign

A half-mile long tunnel 60 feet below the snow surface

Dead end

Timo Griesel

Deep Enough

Jan Luneman

Pig shrine (yes, it’s a real pig’s head)

-60 F

17-year-old sturgeon with caviar: gift of the Russian base

Yesterday I headed out to the IceCube Laboratory (ICL) with Thorsten from LBNL to debug a nasty little low-level problem. We made some progress and I took some more pictures in and around the ICL:

Back of 'DOM Hubs’ where strings are plugged into the computers (I wrote the device driver we use).

Winterized 'Seasonal Equipment Site’ (Drill Camp)

Cable conduits into IceCube Laboratory

Our neighbor: the South Pole Telescope (I live about a half a mile from the PI in Chicago).

Last Arrivals

Saturday, Jan. 31 2009 6 a.m. UTC

Timo and Jan arrived from Mainz today — the last arrivals for IceCube this season. They are working on a system within IceCube to detect stars which explode in or near our galaxy. Our nightshift roster is now complete.

Night shift serenade

The flight arrives

OK, you can stop taxiing now (IceCube Laboratory in the background)

Passengers from the Plane

Lily White

Saturday, Jan. 31 2009 6 a.m. UTC

Followup to yesterday’s post: then there are the times when you are quietly pedaling the stationary bike in the gym while your iPod plays your favorite audiobook, and a couple of lily-white guys (^) come in and crank up some of the more vulgar and un-musical hip-hop on the gym stereo.

This is a place of compromises.

(^ Did I mention it’s mostly lily-white guys here?)

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