South Pole Diaries 1993/94



25th January 1994

From Michael Burton.....

Well here I am at the Pole. I haven't been able to check my email for a couple of days, so if there's anything of importance in it you should resend on.

Left Christchurch on Sunday at 11:30 am and arrived at McMurdo 7.5 hours later. Clouds most of the way until we entered McMurdo Sound, where the view (out of one of the few portholes) was spectacular. We flew low over the ice pack, and could see bergs, sea ice, breaking ice, mountains etc etc. But the flight itself is no picnic. Noisy and you have to wear earplugs and can't really strike up a conversation unless you shout.

McMurdo was about 3 or 4 below with a light breeze. The runway is on the ice about 10km from Base, so you take a bumpy ride in one of the many oversize transporter-minibuses they have. Arrived too late for dinner, and then learnt we were heading to Pole first flight the next day (ie today, Mon). So it was check your bags in at 10:30pm, sleep with your hand carry items, get up for a morning briefing on life in McMurdo and run for the departure bus to get you straight out of McMurdo! All under military discipline. Miss your briefing or break that rule, and you can be on the next flight home!

Pole flight is about 3 hours, again mostly through cloud flying along the Trans-Antarctic mountains, and only seeing the tops of a few peaks poking out. We finally must have cleared the cloud over the Plateau, but to tell the truth I couldn't really tell the difference between Plateau and cloud by looking out the window. The Polar Plateau is so vast and featureless, and of course completely white, that I wasn't sure whether I was looking at cloud or snow! There certainly is some sort of transcendental experience standing out on the Plateau and seeing that endless, featureless horizon under a clear blue sky. However I'll spare you any attempts at poetry; it is something that really can't be described, just experienced.

Pole is sunny, clear blue skies (and has been so for at least 3 weeks) - if it stays like this it will certainly be a great site. Temperature about -33C now and dropping 1 or 2 degrees a day, and light wind. Itis in fact quite pleasant standing outside, as long as you are all wrapped up.

I did see Jamie, just. He was flying out an hour and a half after I landed, and he had to push hard to get himself to stay this long. He has been working hard with John Briggs, and I must say near to exhaustion. Things are pretty good, though there are problems which doubtless we will be communicating on. The most serious is at 5:30am this morning the stepper motor module for the aperture drive blew again, and is currently out of order. John Briggs thinks he knows what to do to replace it - John seems fairly confident about the hardware side of things. Jamie has some theory, after talking to some of the hardware people, that its to do with charge building up and discharging once the motor moves, and thinks it may be fixed by placing a capacitor in the circuit. He has left a diagram for John to show him where to add it (once John finds a capacitor!). I'm not so sure this will prove to be the problem, and wondered if you might have any comments before John does something?

Currently I am taking the rest of the day easy to acclimatize, and John Briggs wants half a day break himself to catch up with rest, so I wont be going over to look at IRPS till tomorrow midday (well I have actually been to the CARA building and seen that IRPS is there; also that's it chaos there with about 4 groups working simultaneously - I gather Jamie even had people working above him as he crouched over the PC yesterday!). Jamie has left instructions as to what to do with the Seagate drive. IRPS is cool and has been for some time. The inner is cold (solid) and has been so for 2 days (without pumping). So the vacuum seems to be holding. IRPS hasn't been outside, but a mounting has been made on the roof (I haven't checked this yet) which is apparently stable and solid (apart from the fact that the whole building shakes badly when someone climbs up the stairs to get on the roof). Jamie has verified that the detector sees flux inside, but hasn't got as far as taking data or getting a CVF scan. One of my tasks is to calibrate the CVF - but there are plenty of Hg fluorescent lights around. But Jamie says that the motors are not slipping. I certainly hope so! The cables to the roof also seem to be in order.

As for Rodney's expt; well space has been negotiated for it (this is quite a delicate matter I gather), and the equipment as been moved to the right building, and John Briggs has checked that the computer fires up. But nothing else has been done. It is on the opposite side of the geodesic dome, and probably 10-15 min walk, so you cant just dash between the IRPS and the microthermals I'm afraid.

The Pole ethernet is up and running I'm told though I haven't spoken to the computer gurus to ascertain details. John B wasn't sure for instance if the IRPS was on the ethernet yet, for instance, but you can communicate between Pole geodesic dome and the CARA building via optical fibres. The real-time internet access to the world is not up yet. I believe the COMMS people can do it, but they are not ready to to give it to the rest of us yet.

However it is possible to make phone patches using the satellite link. I think we can do this most days (and at weekends even make personal calls); we get a direct line to Florida and then make a reverse charges call from there. We should probably consider doing this once I've got going. I will check on details as to how to patch it up (I may not, for instance, be able to be right by the IRPS while I'm doing it). The times will likely be between 10pm and 3am here (NZ time; so that's 8pm to 1am for you, I think). We have the satellite for about 5 hours a day.

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 Alvona, 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.

27th January 1994

From Michael Burton.....

A miserable day at the Pole. The weather has been steadily deteriorating over the past couple of days. Now the mist is down, and we have one of those dreaded ice-drizzles where the lowest part of the atmosphere has a constant rain of ice particles. Visibility about half a km. And its blowing a bit, 20 knots. However this all causes the temperature to rise and its up to -27C., the warmest since I've been here. Makes for a wind chill of -55C however, and you certainly notice that if you expose your skin. I was trying to shoot some video film as I walked to base this morning from summer camp (where I sleep), and if you ever see the clip I think you'll notice that the cameraman was shaking!

Some other reflective comments; I haven't noticed static buildup to be a major concern and can only remember a discharge once. Certainly you don't get anywhere near as many static shocks as on Mauna Kea. And you can touch bare metal with your hands without burning. OK, I wouldn't want to hold on for long, but quick operations liking opening a door, or picking up a bolt are OK. I think because its so dry there is no moisture to stick and burn to the metal.

Yesterday John Briggs made some progress on repairing the wires to the stepper motor module for the aperture drive, while I looked into Rodney's microthermal experiment. That latter one has half a desk in the Clean Air building in a room conveniently built with some small holes punched in the walls! (So I can stick cables out.) It looks towards the 20m mast we intend to install the sensors on. There are stairs up the mast so climbing it is not going to be so much of a Polar adventure as I first thought! I guess I can describe the situation as nominal to coin NASA jargon; we have some problems to sort out but it all looks to be in hand. I hope to try driving the IRPS motors todays from the computer once John has everything back in place.

The roof to the ASTRO building is now very crowded with four experiments up there. SPIREX, an airglow monitor, Bill Volna's 15cm (with cosy operating cabin), plus the IRPS. I'm hoping our views are not going to be impeded! Its a good thing the ASTRO people aren't actually running their experiment this year - there is no room in their building for them. CMBR is also using the building, though their antenna is next door, and the AMANDA people (the neutrino detectors) seem to be using the half complete CARA building plus some tents as they drill holes deep into the ice to drop their detectors into. The GASP telescope (gamma rays) sits near to the Dome, but is covered up right now, and SPASE (the cosmic ray air shower array) (plus Union Jack) sits in little boxes near to the Clean Air building. It certainly shows there's a lot of activity going on in astronomy in Antarctica right now!

28th January 1994

From Michael Burton.....

Weather continues to be miserable, indeed worse. I guess there is no site in the world which is always perfect. The ice-drizzle, blowing-snow is worse, and visibility can't be more than 300m at present. It does bring warmer weather with it though; we've reached -26 right now. Wind is a steady 15 knots at the moment, and always coming from the same quadrant, towards Dome A. The old-timers, however, say that late Jan - Feb is the worst time of the year for weather, as winter time starts to approach and the temp steadily drops.

Flights only just got in yesterday, and I'm not sure whether they will today. Yesterday we were heading out to the Astro building in the Cat at about the time of the first flight (there seem to be two a day) - Astro is set across the runway, when the flashing light came on telling us not to proceed - ie a plane was coming. We got out to watch, sheltering in the lee of the Cat, when suddenly a plane appeared out of the mist. It circled once and disappeared. A few minutes later it reappeared this time on the right approach to the iceway, but about 50m above it. A practice approach to see if they'd got the line right. Finally on the third time they came in and landed. This flight was cargo-only; I think with people in the back they would have turned around and headed back to Mactown.

I'm close to having adjusted to the conditions; I am sleeping reasonably now and not having to get up in the middle of the 'night' anymore. I seem to have established some kind of inner body schedule which is close to having a 24 hour period, but I get to sleep 2am is and wake in time for lunch. I will probably never see breakfast here! However I can report that the meals are indeed good at Pole.

The experiments are progressing as well as expected - though Michael Ashley and Rodney Marks are being subjected to continuous streams of questions. I often have just worked out the answer 24 hours later when the reply comes back, but by then have sent another stream of Qs. I think we have fixed the problem of stepper modules blowing up from short-circuits with John having scrounged some fuses and and fitting them in series with each module. I hope we are going to turn some motors with the computer today! I've also found out most of the info I think I need to set up the ethernet connections, so we may yet be able to control the IRPS via email. The South Pole ethernet is in a state of flux, and it has only been in the past couple of days that it has been even possible to connect to the Dome from any outlying buildings. No further news on the real-time internet access yet, though. I took my first data too yesterday, noise measurements with the microthermal experiment. So not desperately exciting, but it is the first data we've obtained in Antarctica. I'm waiting for Rodney to tell me if the numbers are OK!

29th January 1994

From Michael Burton.....

Well the weather's kept up its show, apart from a brief interlude where it all cleared up and the sun shined in a blue sky for a couple of hours. Visibility got down to 300-400m at times, the the trek across to the Astro building felt a bit like a real Antarctic expedition. But I think it does us good to have to wander out in these conditions at times - reminds us of exactly where we are. You can really be a bystander to the environment here if you work in the Dome and always take the Cats when out on the ice. To tell the truth the gear we've got is so good that you really only feel the chill around the mouth and nose. No planes arrived today. This weather would be no problem however for our balloon-borne telescope.............

A good day work-wise though; the IRPS was put back together and the motors turned! Some minor panics when I couldn't initially calibrate one wheel, and with the other slipping. But a simple offset in the software fixed one, and tightening a screw the other. Our major concern is of things overheating! The heaters that Michael's installed really do their job, and in the lab we seemed to be getting into danger of melting the solder! We pumped on the vacuum for the first time in over two weeks, but its held really well, and we are hopeful we might not need to pump all winter. The molecular sieve (the 'getter' as the Yanks call it) is really doing its job. I played around with the detector in the lab, and it seems to work, and I took some CVF spectra. The most frustrating thing is that there is a minor software bug that is preventing me from graphing the results properly, so I haven't seen what I've got so far, just imagined it from the numbers!

We have now to pump the inner to solid N2, adjust the Fet Balance and flash the detector - and then it can go outside on the roof. I'm hopeful we'll get around to that either today or tomorrow.

Incidentally the gold mirror we're using to reflect radiation into the dewar has now been outside on the roof, unprotected, for about 3 weeks, with absolutely no sign of deteriation or contamination. Even in the ice-drizzle we've had the past couple of days, nothing sticks to the surface of the mirror; it's simply too dry here. CARA have done some expts leaving out mirrors all winter and found the same, so that will make life easier in some respects.

The weekend is the time we can make personal telephone calls, for the 5 hours or so when the GOES satellite is visible. It's imperative to be in the line to sign up early when the list goes up, otherwise you get stuck with the most undesirable times. I didn't know this vital bit of information, and am stuck with the 4am slot for my calls! You're expected to have an AT&T card to charge to as well, so my family is going to be paying for reverse charge calls from the States!


Addendum from Michael Ashley:

The heaters I installed regulate the temperature to +5C, unless the dewar is inside in a cosy +20C environment, in which case the stepper motor power is sufficient to raise the temperature to +60C, which is about 100 degrees too cold to melt solder :-)

30th January 1994

From Michael Burton.....

Its Sunday in Antarctica, a rest day around here. Well for all except us beaker-types who never find an excuse to stop work! Though I didn't wake up till 2pm myself today.......

Even the cooks take the day off on Sunday and we will have volunteer-chefs for tonights meal. Who knows what that will bring? Saturday brought traditional American fare - burger and chips for lunch and pizza for dinner; that seems to be a South Pole tradition too.

Managed my phone patch home this morning - a highly orchestrated business whereby the computer telephones the operator in Florida via the satellite - radio link, and then connects you up. It confused my parents to be asked if they'd take a reverse charges call from Miami when they were expecting me elsewhere! A regulated 10 min then the computer cuts you off and the next person in the queue gets their turn. The other way of communicating is via ham-patch through the radio network - at the right time of day and in the right bands you can make connections around the world, and it appears there are hams back in the States who live for nothing more than making contact with the Pole, then making a reverse-charge call to whoever you want talk to!

The weather has relented and the Sun is out again. Still a few cirrus clouds, but its nice to see blue sky. Temperature has dropped to -32 though, but the winds are light and it really is quite pleasant going for a walk in these conditions. You don't notice the cold at all! However there are no more flights into the Pole until Thursday. Then we have 4 flights a day for 5 days! Re-stocking for the winter; the supply ship is now in McMurdo and frantic activity is going on unloading. Apparently it takes a week to do so, and then Mactown send the supplies out to wherever there are winter-overers.

An unfortunate piece of news I heard was relating the Vostok. After much effort funds were found to keep the base going, but alas the supply train that was re-stocking the base (its done by overland traverse) had so many break down this year that not enough goods arrived at Vostok to keep it open for the winter. So its being closed down, presumably the Americans are helping evacuating it, and they hope to re-open next summer. But that will be one hell of a job.

Good progress continues with our expts; though we probably could be further forward than we are. But it pays to do things slowly down here. Though we haven't actually optimised the noise on the detector we are getting nice spectra in the lab, looking essentially like what we saw at SSO. We intend to put a new disk drive in today with mcba's latest fancy software, and then I hope we're ready to go out on the roof. The Spirex team have now placed Grim (their version of IRIS) on the telescope, and are now chasing down sources of noise. It'll be a race to see who get the first IR spectrum! Spirex really is a pretty complex beast, and if it works it will be great, though somehow I expect that will be hard to achieve without the support crew here this winter. But a lot is being learnt, and it is clearly only a matter of time before success will be achieved. I haven't been spending too much time with the microthermals so far; the tyranny of distance between the Clean Air and Astro buildings. But the noise readings I am getting so far are all to specs. Rodney now hopes to get his kite experiment to us, so were rushing around trying to order a kite from a Christchurch supplier so that John Briggs can fly it during the long winter night! There is a supplier in Christchurch who specialises in sending kites to Antarctica - apparently its a popular activity at Mactown!

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!

2nd February 1994

From Michael Burton.....

The days are starting to become a blur here now. It's hard to remember even what I was doing today, let alone a couple of days ago. Partly a result of days indeed having no meaning down here, but also of being totally wrapped up in getting your experiments going. A strange existence, and I'm only doing it for a couple of weeks. What must it be like for the winter-overers?!

We have had some problems balancing the detector for the IRPS at low or zero flux levels, but I think its really just a matter of patience when you run the program up. Other than that the IRPS seems to be behaving as predicted and can take data. John Briggs spent some time playing with it yesterday getting the feel of how the software works. We missed the Moon though - a matter of not having got our geography right! We will try again tonight and start a bit earlier. It was quite noticeable, however, seeing how the flux changes from zenith to horizon. I was working at 3.8um (L) to minimise the sunlight, but for instance going from zenith to 60 degrees the flux increases by a factor of about 70%, then from 60 degrees to the horizon by a factor of 5 times. The trouble for us is that the Moon is only 10 degrees above the horizon so we have a strong varying background problem to deal with. However our measurements did seem repeatable on short timescales as we scanned from zenith to horizon.

I spent some time messing with the microthermal experiments and confusing myself. Doubtless Rodney will come to my rescue, but the time delay of around 48 hours between indentifying problem, sending off help cry and receiving answer is making things a bit slow. O for the real time internet. This will be available soon, we're promised, for around 5 hours a day. It may even be possible to get an aging NOAA satellite for another 7-8 hours at hundred-K baud rates soon, if NOAA can be persuaded to turn off a weather fax line on it which no-one now uses. These satellites can be picked up virtually as they cross the horizon, so its looking promising for the future of Antarctic communication, wherever we might want to end up. And the Pole is certainly the hardest place to reach!

The weather (thought you'd never ask!): 38 below, beautiful clear blue skies, pressure 686mb (this never seems to change) and winds from the E (grid!) at 8 knots.

3rd February 1994

From Michael Burton.....

Another day of astronomy action at the Pole. The IRPS saw its first astronomical source, the Moon! We scanned up and down from zenith to horizon while waiting for the Moon to transit our scan, and sure enough a strong signal appeared for about 15 minutes in the 4 degrees around declination -13 (ie 13 degrees above the horizon). We had to observe at L because there is simply to much scattered sunlight at shorter wavelengths - we saturate the detector. Even at L there is a 10 fold increase in sky brightness from zenith to horizon, so there is a strongly varying background to contend with, but the Moon came in at about 4 times the local background, so there was no doubting it. A few panics occurred while doing the scans; as the Sun moved round we would get occasional reflections off pieces of metal onto our mirror, and the signal would shoot up. But only when we were pointing near the zenith! I guess we haven't really though about baffling our dewar against sunlight; astronomers aren't usually accustomed to thinking about such considerations!

The most confusing thing about our observations was trying to predict the time. On the vax here there is a program which gives you the Moon's declination and azimuth, but when trying to convert this into a time to observe I'm convinced the program not only has grid north and south the wrong way around, but measures angles north through west rather than east! Maybe the programmer thought they were at the North Pole!?

We also tried hitting Jupiter, about 45 min later than the Moon, but no luck. However that really isn't surprising given that we have a 2mm aperture looking out into perhaps the brightest background you will find on the Planet right now! Incidentally realising this last point has solved our last major problem, the fet-balancing of the detector. We were worried we were still getting excess and variable noise levels on the detector. In one experiment I noticed that the noise seemed to be dependent on the elevation angle of our mirror, something which is clearly impossible! We are getting flux into the dewar, and there is so much radiation if you are pointing to the horizon (as we often did as its easier to check on positions of filter wheels etc). So the secret is to point to zenith, put in the CVF to the long end of the K window and the noise drops to the right levels! It won't be a problem in the winter, but I guess the designers of the IRPS didn't envisage it being used in our current conditions!

Time is starting to run out for me now, and I'm having to get going with the microthermal experiment in earnest. I seem to have got the calibrations done for that, and now come the fun part of tying all the cables up the mast! There are still things to do with the IRPS and mcba keeps sending new software patches and coming up with ideas of how to improve things, but I'll probably have to put them on low priority if I'm to get things finished!

I even took time out to write a few postcards! Its important to get a South Pole postmark, rather than a McMurdo one! The weather is still holding up, and the temperature keeps dropping. -39 right now. Soon it will be that magical number -40 and I'll stop having to always tell my American colleagues the units I'm using when discussing the weather!

4th February 1994

From Michael Burton.....

It's minus 39.6 as I type and we're heading towards that magic figure of 40 below where life starts to become uncomfortable. I'm told you can make instant snow at 40 below by going outside with a cup of hot water and throwing it into the air; as the water comes down it condenses into snow flakes! Something I will now try!

It is definitely getting towards end of season here now; a fleet re-supply planes are coming in over the few days, and PAX (Antarctic jargon for passengers) are being allowed to leave. I'm due out myself on Monday, which by my calcs is the 7th (though maybe one of you could confirm that for me!).

JB and I spent the day on the microthermals now that the IRPS is basically working, deferring mcba's long list of questions and tests. I had made a few errors in the setting up of the microthermals but fortunately Rodney's rescue message came just in the nick of time to set us on the right path. The calibrations are now done and we are starting on the fun task of assembling the supports on the Clean Air tower. The tower is a little rickety to climb and I must admit to feeling a little queazy when on top and looking down, but JB seemed to love it! He put the first support in right at the top just for kicks! We should finish it all today, assumed no hitches develop. Some good photo opportunities await for 'hero shots'.

News just in - the CMBR people have just confirmed the anisotropy they measured here in the background last year, and are now set to build on that results this winter. Science starts to unfold around us......

5th February 1994

From Michael Burton.....

What a night! What a night! Todays activities for JB and myself were dominated by one thing; connecting the sensors and cables for the microthermal experiment to the Met. mast outside the Clean Air building, an activity which occupied us for 6 hours from midnight to 6am. Every trip has its little adventure to recant, and for me this was it.

The temp dropped to -41C as we began. Really it wasn't a difficult task we had; just run 16 cable the 100 metres from the Clean Air building and 25m up the mast, connect them to the supports we had bolted on, and then connect the sensors which were going to make the air turbulence measurements. But it was a labour intensive task, and as you quickly find if you work here, physical activity is exhausting. Even after two weeks, I find that running 100m leaves me completely breathless. And as most of you know, I do a little running in my spare time!

JB did most of the real-hero bits, hanging off the tower, catching cables as I swung them by, and bolting things together with his bare hands. I mostly hearded cables around and climbed up and down the mast fastening things down. The view from the top of the bottom of the world is simply sublime, if you don't worry too much about the swaying and don't look down. An endless, featureless horizon in all directions, with a panoramic view on the miniscule portion of the Plateau where Man's presence has been felt. It must be the ultimate in etherial experiences, at least for Earth-bound travellers.

I think the expt is now working, at least the sensors seem to be giving sensible looking readings, though since neither JB or myself really know how to interpret the voltages (that's a black art which only Rodney and our French collaborators back in Nice have fathomed) we can't give instant science. It was, however, a calm day (for which we were fortunate), and as I left for breakest the lower two levels of sensors where giving readings of a few tenths of a volt, and the upper sensors about half that amount. In my naive interpretation that means (a) both good seeing (levels of 1-2 V are more normally expected) and (b) at 25m height you do better! But we will see; the real action for this experiment is in the winter.

The IRPS got a rest today, apart from a refill of the outer. But it seems to be holding well, and easilys last one day without replenishment of LN2. Today after tidying up around the microthermals we will go back for a final test out and trouble shoot, and then I hope we can start observing!

7th February 1994

From Michael Burton.....

Well all being well this should be my last South Pole report for this summer; I'm due to fly out of here at 1pm today, and its 9:30am right now. It's been a memorable two weeks, and to tell the truth civilisation seems like a dream to me right now. The snow and ice and cold is reality! It's been remarkably successful time, not just for our experiments, but for all CARA's experiments and team. There will undoubtedly be problems over winter, of technical, physical and psychological nature, but Antarctic astronomy has made a major step forward this summer and spirits are high. The practical demonstration of the concept is virtually upon us!

I've left the IRPS in good shape; there are some teething difficulties but they are easily monitored and fixed by spinning various wheels one more time. There are some minor software bugs, but these are amenable to mcba sending patches over the network. (Actually the first test of the real time internet is being made at this minute - which should give us an extra 9600 baud for 3 hours a day, compared to the 1200 baud we have for 5 hours right now. And there is the potential promise of a NOAA weather satellite with considerably greater rates). I've taken a little data, but there is limited science to be obtained in daylight observing, and I have had to be content with daylight scans of the CVF. Even at M small changes in the thermal flux as the Sun moves around dominate over any sky fluctuation noise.

The microthermals are not in quite so good shape. The experiment is up and running, but we have discovered an interesting phenomenon; growth of ice crystals on the filaments. The higher up the mast you go the more prevalent is this growth; a sensor left of the roof of the Clean Air building shows moderate growth and those 85ft are absolutely covered. There clearly is some kind of critical size of filament or fibre on which crystals grow, as if there is a nucleation size. The larger cables and even the supports for the filaments don't show any ice growth for instance. And there is no ice growth on the roof of the Astro building. Some more experiments needs to be done, and it's possible that by sending a current through the sensors directly we may be able to melt the crystals for time periods long enough to take sensible data. But we need to do some consulting with the experts first!

So I'm going to sign off for what is probably the last time before I get to Australia. Unless my flight is turned back - the weather is deteriorating a little at the moment, or I get stuck in Mactown waiting for a flight out. Then you may get to here what life in an Antarctic coastal town is like. So at 40 below for the last time, cheers!

And wish John Briggs luck over the winter. Our data depends on him! (Good wishes to be emailed to jbriggs at the Pole.)

8th February 1994

From Michael Burton.....

This will be my final report (I hope) as I'm due to fly out of McMurdo at lunchtime tomorrow. Just some quick impressions of an Antarctic coastal town to let you know why life is better on the high Plateau!

Arrival at McMurdo actually feels rather similar in many ways to coming down off Mauna Kea into Hilo; the air is warm, there's plenty of it to breath, and there is that hustle and bustle of activity that makes you wish you were in a quiter place. And you can contact the real world once more, which is a mixed blessing when you see how many emails are waiting you!

McMurdo itself is a real industrial little town; an ugly place which is utilitarian but functions. It does have some impressive facilities though, none more so than the Crary science centre, a huge research laboratory built to plush government standards with an apparant surplus of all the latest equipment for the biological, geological and chemical sciences. In a balloon lab I saw 9 IR dewars from IR Labs, all making the IRPS pale into insignificance; and these are basically disposable! Much of the reject equipment here (eg IBM 386s, 5 year old furntiture etc) is given to Pole for their use. The next step for us Antarctic astronomers is to convince NSF that Pole infrastructure needs to be built up in the same way! (And I think they know; there are big paper plans for the Pole in the next 5 years or so.).

An historic event occured just after we landed; the first touchdown of a (wheeled) C141 on the new ice-runway ('Pegasus'); this is a third runway they've just opened to allow wheeled aircraft to land late in the season (ie now), and it will make a tremendous difference to capabilites. C141s can take about twice as many people and at least that much more payload, and should extend the season here available for science. Moreover there are a lot more C141's in the world than ski- equipped LC-130's . The next thing we need is for a way to be found to bring these beasts to the Pole!

McMurdo does have its history; Scott's Hut where the initial explorations of the Antarctic interior were made, for instance, with many tragic results (and not just the famous Pole conquest story). There's also Scott Base (NZ) where you can see Hillary's hut where they launched the first trans-antarctic crossing in the IGY. And there are some spectacular mountains in the distance; though unfortunately they are covered in cloud right now. I can only see the lower slopes of Erebus, though I find it hard to believe its 50km away. I've seen my first non-human life; countless skuas, a grand total of 4 Adalie penguins near Scott's Hut, and some seals out on the sea-ice. There was also a Russian cruise liner in when I arrived and a luxury French yacht. You can go for walks, and there are places to go to. But it can be cold, not so much from the temperature (I think its only a few below zero right now) but becuase od the wind. I was much more comfortable working at Pole; there you know what to wear and the weather's fixed!


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