South Pole Diaries 1993/94



1st February 1994

From Michael Burton.....

It's been a few days since my last report. Time has flown and I have lost track of it as well. Certainly my body clock isn't on a 24 hour day; it must be closer to a 26 hour schedule, and its a bit hazy thinking back on what has actually happened. Such confusion is quite normal down here! So what has happened?

Firstly the weather has behaved again; that means deep blue skies and no clouds, accompanied by a drop in temperature. We're down to -37 degrees now, and you do notice the difference. A couple of days ago I was working outside at around -30 in the lee of the Clean Air building for about half an hour. I had the sun shining on me and idn't even bother wearing hat, coat or gloves. Last night I was standing out on top of the Astro building for 5 min, fully clad apart from my right hand which I was using to take piccies. I damm near got frost bite and the fingers still tingle now. Its the wind that is the killer. When its blowing you really can feel cold!

The momentuous news is that we now have a working instrument and have our first data of the IR sky above the Pole in summer! All the bits to IRPS finally went together, and we took the instrument out onto the roof yesterday and connected it all up, and lo and behold our first data came in! Of course we are dominated by scattered sunlight at the moment, but you can certainly see the drop in the thermal emission at the long wavelength end of K, even on top of the sunlight. In contrast at SSO a daylight spectrum shows the flux to being up at the long end of K; our spectrum at the Pole is still falling. It is well and truly cold here! We even seem to have got the computer communications going and can run IRPS via email, sending special messages to an IRPS account we have set up on the Vax. We even hope we may be able to get data back this way, but there are a few hurdles to overcome there. There are of course a few worries, and Michael Ashley continues to get long emails of questions, and I am still not entirely happy with the way the instrument noise is behaving, but we certainly seem to have some nice spectra at the moment. I hope to try catching the moon later today, at around 4am and seeing if we can see a blip in the signal above the sky level.

The other big news is that Spirex has taken first light; ie the first IR image to be taken at the South Pole. Of alpha Crux - that nice double in the Southern Cross. The Spirex team are still working extremely hard and have a number of bugs to iron out, but they certainly are able to take data. Indeed the raw images look very similar to IRIS ones. Perhaps not too surprising since the instrument is very similar and has the same kind of array. They are keeping the instrument warm by placing it in a box and surrounding by heating tape to avoid worrying about winterising the instrument.

So it's all action at the Pole!