South Pole Diaries 1993/94



26th January 1994

From Michael Burton.....

Day 3 now at the Pole and I am starting to find my way around, though things are still a little slow. The weather's holding at about 33 below with winds from the (grid) NE (ie Dome A) of 5-10 knots, as it always does. It's clouded up unfortunately; there had been about three weeks of clear skies before I arrived. However its all light cloud - cirrus or some of it various alternates (I'm sure the weather guys could give me the exact names).

We haven't done much with the IRPS so far - mainly becuase its been hard to get too. There have been at least 4 different teams working in the Astro building, including some builders who were working directly above the IRPS most of yesterday. However last night we looked like we tracked down the problem which has plagued the stepper motor module for the aperture drive - a broken connection in one of the cables. John Briggs hopes to rewire a number of connectors today, and then I can get down to seeing if I can drive anything on the IRPS.

By the way the gold mirror has been left exposed to the elements for at least a week so far, with no signs of deterioation. No-one bothers to put mirro covers on down here!

Communications are improving - the Pole local ethernet seemed to get established yesterday - I managed to get a message from one of the SPIREX macs to the main Pole Vax ('Walnut') yesterday, and I'll see if I can do the same with the PC today. So we might yet get MCBA's socket connections going to talk from a Sun to the IRPS computer. Still not sure about the real time internet access.

The Astro building is a warren of activity. 4 SPIREX guys are working on getting their 60cm telescope going on the roof, and yesterday after a week of effort finally seem to have it pointing and tracking. I saw the alpha Crux double (Southern Cross brightest star) clearly through the eyepiece - high up near the zenith. It finally convinced me I was at the Pole (being a doubter and not accepting the Sun remaining at constant zenith angle as evidence enough!). Then the CMBR has another 4 working on their antennae, lying shielded on the Ice, with two dewars. The Astro people seem to have left - they dont have their telescope down here this year, but did have a big team at work. Then there are some other isolated experiments. One person has a airglow experiment going, but I haven't been able to ascertain details yet (its not part of CARA, but is on the roof right next to where the IRPS is going). And finally there is an 'amateur' telescope here, courtesey of Bill Volna, one of those tinekerer-engineer geniuses who build everything themselves in their sheds. Its a 15cm Alt-Az telescope which you operate while sitting in a heated box attached to it. He built it to keep warm while star gazing in Minnesota, but its just what John Briggs wants to look at the stars in comfort during the winter! You could attach a CCD camera to it quite easily too, and he intends to do this to try and get some direct seeing measurments. In fact we might be able to fix the IRPS to it - though the f-ratio is not quite right (f/10). It's been the biggest hit out here so far!

Living is comfortable but basic. Sleeping quarters are in 'Jamesways', miltary style semi-cylindrical buildings, which we each have a cubicle in. About 5min walk from the Dome. But surprisngly comfortable and warm. Hardest bit is going to the loo in the middle of the 'night' (which my body seems to want to do quite often - I'm feeling the same kind of symptons you experience on Mauna Kea). You throw on your jacket and dash the 30s to the washrooms over the ice in the blazing sun-shine. If you are out for less than 30s you don't notice the cold, but some people have a longer walk to make and must get fully dressed each time. Winteroverers live in the dome with attached facilities, those of you who are contemplating it.....

Well I should get back to work (or should I say start it). Its 2pm and I've only just had lunch at breakfast - I'm already out of sync - but them most people here are. Some seem to go 2-3 days without sleeping, then sleep for 18 hours. Everyone is different. The only ones who are half sane are the construction workers.