South Pole Diaries 1995/96



South Pole Diary January 24th, 4am

From Michael Burton.....

Its a few days since my last report, though its with the greatest difficulty that I remember its 3 days ago, and that I've been here 5. The `days' have merged into a blur. However progress has been made!

I tried calling my parents on Sunday night - there are 4 hours each week when we are allowed to use the satellite to make private calls. However the satellite refused to cooperate with me, and though I once managed to reach the operator in Florida I never got any further. In fact communication seems to have been harder this time than 2 years ago - I have also been having trouble getting email out for a variety of unrelated reasons which seem to indicate that gremlins may indeed inhabit the Pole!

Craig must have set new records in Polar efficiency. His experiment was up and running within a day of my getting here, and is getting glorious data. The mid-IR sky is simply fantastic when its clear - and certainly far more stable than we were anticipating. Craig, of course, will be patient while he analyses the results before reporting them, but my gut feeling is that mid-IR work in the summer months is a real possibility for future science experiments.

The IRPS, on the other hand, has been causing us no end of trouble. Fixing it is a job well beyond my meagre electronic capabilities, but fortunately both Craig and Jamie (last year's SPIREX winterover, and of course our IRPS honours student of 93!) were up to the task. Having untangled the seemingly countless cables connecting the multitudinous parts of the experiment that Michael Ashley has now created and fitting them all together, I managed to cool the dewar down and start testing it out. First the motors worked, but no signal could be seen. After tracing this to a blown fuse, we then found we could see signal but no longer move the motors. Another blown fuse! Then the motors worked but the signal failed, and back and forth a couple more times. The trouble was that various connectors at the back of the computer had suffered in transporting the computer to Australia and back after the last season, and every time one was fixed another would be knocked out of place. The final fix came after use of the infamous LeCroy 9314L oscilloscope, star of an entire issue of Michael Ashley's diary of last year. Howling, the IRPS finally revealed all of its hidden secrets - I think we had been measuring the signal from the slow discharge of a capacitor!!

However the IRPS appears to be working now, as long as we all try not to breath on it, and I have pumped it down to its operating temperature and am getting ready for some calibration measurements, before trying out the Mark II automatic liquid nitrogen filling system, which Jack Cochrane laboured so tremendously over Christmas to have ready for me. But first I have had to clear up my 2 square metres of space as the adjoining 1.5 square metres are due to be occupied tomorrow by another experimenter!

After 4 days of pure sunshine the weather changed, and the past 24 hours we have been covered in low cloud, with limited visibility. Craig didn't think too much of my suggestion that this would make for perfect calibration by just assuming an optically thick black body at the ambient temperature! Actually attentitive readers may have noticed that I've failed to inform of the local temperatures. The main reason is because the base computer, which is supposed to continually log such information for public dissemination, seems to think every weather statistic is zero this year! However its been pretty warm so far, with the temperature hovering around the -30 mark. We really need it a little colder for Craig's experiment to reach its best!

My skiing has picked up, and I only fell over once yesterday entering the dome down the ice-covered ramp to its entrance. However I've also chickened out a couple of times and taken SPART, the South Pole Area Rapid Transport (a name not too dissimilar to the public transportation system in the Bay Area of California, and probably just as rapid!), to the CARA site instead.

And finally I think I am becoming accustomed to the altitude as I slept for 10 hours last night and woke up feeling great. However the end result is that I am now well and truly on a night schedule, and will be heading over to breakfast soon before retiring to bed!

Michael Burton



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