Monthly Archives: April 2013

Astronomical Twilight

The sun is now ~13deg below the horizon and we’ve officially entered the period known as Astronomical Twilight (with the sun between 12 and 18deg below the horizon). The moon has risen and casts stark shadows against the sastrugi and station. There’s a faint glow on the horizon following the sun, the moon is full and luminous, and still the brightest stars are clear as ever.

We’ve had a good round of iridium flares this past week as well and the first spectacular displays of Aurora Australis the Southern Lights. They’re ephemeral, sliding slowly from black nothingness to grey and maybe into green or a very faint red. Sometimes it disappears as quickly as it came, sometimes I’m not sure if I’m imagining it, and then it pulses bright and there’s no doubt. Lots of playing with cameras and tripods to get a good shot…When a call goes out on the radio that there’s a good one it’s a stampede down the hall with everyone running to see. I’m sure our excitement will wane eventually, but for now it’s a new experience.

Things are chugging along in the seemingly perpetual cold and dark with temperatures ranging from -70F to -85F. It’s beautiful, quiet, and utterly awe-inspiring at times – Especially when I’m working outside and look up to see the milky way unfurled above me, stretching across the sky…
Inside the station, with cardboard over the windows, it feels a bit like groundhog day. We have a good group overall and I’ve made some good friends, but it’s interesting to watch the petty issues like dish washing and toothpaste left in the sink become big deals. With little else to distract us we make news for ourselves. The smallest of things become the most exciting topics for lunch conversation. We only have a few hours of internet each day, something I’m happy with. If there was internet access 24/7 some people would never leave the computer, but we’re not totally isolated from global events either.

So here are some of my favorite shots from this week:

More auroras

More auroras

Aurora Australis

Aurora Australis

The Ceremonial South Pole (sans international flags) with the marker flag in memory of Rodney Marks. Faint red/purple auroras light up the sky between moon lit snow and the stars above.

The Ceremonial South Pole (sans international flags) with the marker flag in memory of Rodney Marks. Faint red/purple auroras light up the sky between moon lit snow and the stars above.

And iridium flare right through the Southern Cross

An iridium flare right through the Southern Cross

The iridium satellites pass overhead every 9 minutes 10 seconds or so. They’re our emergency connection to the outside world and the basis for iridium phones. The name “iridium” apparently comes from the initial plan to have 77 satellites in orbit (77 being the atomic number for the element iridium). For several reasons however, only 67 satellites are in orbit. When the solar panels or antennae catch the sunlight reflecting it towards us it becomes the brightest point in the sky, baring the sun and moon.

Home Sweet Home reflecting the light of the rising moon

Home Sweet Home reflecting the light of the rising moon

A 20 sec exposure self portrait. So I had to set the timer, run out in front, and stand still for 20 seconds...

A 20 sec exposure self portrait. So I had to set the timer, run out in front, and stand still for 20 seconds…

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Nautical Twilight

The sun is now ~9deg below the horizon and it’s getting darker every day! There is still a brighter spot on the horizon where the sun is and we won’t reach technical darkness until May 11. For now we’re still in Nautical Twilight (sun is between 6 and 12deg below the horizon). A few of the research projects here study auroraus and other astronomical phenomenon that require darkness. To avoid interference from white light, and to preserve our night vision we cover all the station windows with cardboard and use only minimal red lights outside. Everyone has been issued a red headlamp.

The brightest stars are out: Canopus, Sirius, the Southern Cross and the two pointer stars. More appear every day. On Monday April 8th we got to witness Iridium flares, a fascinating event in which iridium satelites reflect the sun creating a very bright flare in the sky. It only occurs a few times throughout the winter, and this time around it’s still too light out to get a good picture. We’re having a bit of a wind storm this week, but we’re anticipating our first aurora sighting any day now!

The moon over the waste berms

The moon over the waste berms about a week ago

DZ at lunch

DZ at lunch

The power plant and VMF arches with heavy equipment parked in front

The power plant and VMF arches with heavy equipment parked in front

The station in early afternoon

The station in early afternoon

Red lights at DZ to avoid light pollution and killing night vision

Red lights at DZ to avoid light pollution and killing night vision

Blaise and Andrew working on the roof to remove a cover for an all-sky camera at -62F with a 25kt wind.

Blaise and Andrew working on the roof to remove a cover for an all-sky camera at -62F with a 25kt wind.

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-98.9F

So close to 100 below…and yet so far away. We’re back up to -78F today…-98.9F

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PART II A Day in the Life of a Wastie at Pole

Waste Management - Spill Response ANTARCTICA

Waste Management – Spill Response
ANTARCTICA

For the most part trash generated at the South Pole is collected in giant cardboard boxes called “triwalls” for their three layer corrugated walls. The triwalls I use come in two sizes: roughly 3.5ft x 3.5ft x 3.5ft (50 cubic feet) and 3.5ft x 3.5ft x 8ft (100 cubic feet) or “50 cubes” and “100 cubes.” These are Ginormous cardboard boxes – like refrigerator boxes for kids I can’t stop thinking about the potential for spaceships and castles. Setting them up alone can be a challenge, but with plenty of practice I’ve figured out a system.

Most of our waste is collected at DZ close to the station, but at -80F or -90F it can be a bit of an adventure just to take a bag or two out. Once a triwall gets full I close it up, band it with metal banding and set up a new one. Some categories such as paper towels, plastic, and food waste fill up faster than other, say electronic scrap which might not get full all winter. We fill maybe 3-5 triwalls a week then they’re taken off to the berms to be stored until summer.

At the colder temps we’ve been having lately (-75F to -90F ambient) I’ve encountered a few more challenges: The flaps crack with a loud pop when I bend them, coming away in my hands…my big marker freezes, ink steaming on the cold cardboard…the plastic liners we put in food waste and sanitary that are nearly stretchy when warm crack and shred…the banding tools slip…

But pictures are worth a thousand words so here you go. These pictures were taken by my friend Tom who’s working in Materials. These were taken almost a month ago when the sun was still above the horizon.

The DZ Waste Line

The DZ Waste Line

Stomping on trash to pack it down - no sense in flying out air

Stomping on trash to pack it down – no sense in flying out air

Folding up the flaps and closing the box with a cargo strap

Folding up the flaps and closing the box with a cargo strap

Banding!

Banding!

Tensioning the banding

Tensioning the banding

The rachet tool

The rachet tool

Labeling is important, even though it fades in the sunlight of summer

Labeling is important, even though it fades in the sunlight of summer

Step7

Threading a cargo strap through the pallet so it's ready for the new triwall

Threading a cargo strap through the pallet so it’s ready for the new triwall

These were taken a few weeks ago as you can see by the sun being up...my supplies (banding, new triwalls, pallets, straps etc) are at DZ too so it's not too far to drag them. Still, they're slipper and heavy.

These were taken a few weeks ago as you can see by the sun being up…my supplies (banding, new triwalls, pallets, straps etc) are at DZ too so it’s not too far to drag them. Still, they’re slipper and heavy.

The 100 cube triwalls are huge and cumbersome.

The 100 cube triwalls are huge and cumbersome.

A giant 100 cube

A giant 100 cube

Lining it up just right on the wood pallet is key - then it's just folding down the flaps.

Lining it up just right on the wood pallet is key – then it’s just folding down the flaps.

Tipping it upright

Tipping it upright

They break off in the super cold, but otherwise it's too tall.

They break off in the super cold, but otherwise it’s too tall.

Step15

A cargo strap holds the triwall to the wood pallet and keeps the flaps down.

A cargo strap holds the triwall to the wood pallet and keeps the flaps down.

Step17

A picture of myself after setting up and banding a few triwalls

A picture of myself after setting up and banding a few triwalls

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