South Pole Diaries 1995/96



South Pole Diary January 26th, Australia Day 5am

From Michael Burton.....

Its now Australia Day, and Craig and I were probably the first Australians to celebrate it. At midnight (of the 25th) we both headed over to the flags around the Pole and started a picture session with all our cameras, posing in front of the various tourist sites - the ceremonial pole with all the flags of the original Antarctic treaty nations, the signpost indicating the way to various locations around the globe (though none in Oz I'm afraid) and the Pole itself. We probably committed a federal felony by removing the US flag from the Pole and replacing it with the Oz flag for the photo session! And we remembered our masters back home by taking a few pics with the UNSW banner prominently displayed. Actually I'm hoping to get to see our AASTO at McMurdo on the way back and have come armed with both UNSW and ANU banners for a suitable photo op! Sigh, how image drives science these days!

Its started to get cooler - the temp gauge dropped to -35 today, but the wind seems to have stopped making it actually feel quite warm out here! We've been having a mix of bright blue sky, to be rapidly followed by extensive cloud cover, and reverting back to clear skies. Craig keeps oscillating between thinking this is a good site for 10 micron work and a lousy one, with each weather change! Just like any mainland observatory!

While we've at last seen the temperature drop as we head towards the end of the summer season, on the other hand the temperature in the MAPO building is heading towards the roof! We must have close on 50 terminals in operation and my thermometer is reading 27 deg. Given that we all have our thermals on it can get a little uncomfortable at times. Not to mention the 60 degree temperature difference when you head outside! The temperature has had an unexpected affect on the experiment. I've been trying to do a number of calibrations before taking the IRPS onto the roof, and have been thrashing the filter and aperture wheels around. Until I discovered that the filter wheel wasn't behaving properly and not ending up in the right place. I noticed its temperature was over 50 degrees, and have directed a fan onto it, whereby it nows works perfectly. I guess Michael Ashley just neglected to design the experiment for both equatorial and Antarctic conditions - though I'm sure he'll come up with a modification for next time!

A major discussion point of late has been toilets! Or `Heads' as they are called around here (a US navy term, for some reason). Out in the astro sector we've been blessed with a solar toilet, a wooden building just heated by the warmth of the Sun. Actually it quite pleasant inside, though I'll spare you the graphic details of how the plumbing works. However in winter this naturally cant be used (no Sun!) and the administrative services around here seem somewhat reluctant to provide anything more than a barrel for the winter-overers to use. (its a kilometre back to the main base - not a journey you can do in two minutes when the temperature is 60 degrees below!). Meetings have been arranged between the astronomers and admin (ASA - Antarctic Support Associates) - to which all that has been achieved so far is to arrange additional meetings. Yes, bureaucracy strikes at the South Pole too! If you ever chance on Jamie in a quite moment and ask him about the situation you will hear a few choice expletives! Jamie is not proving to be a good committee man in this instance!!

My experiment has improved no end since my last report and indeed I am close to taking the IRPS up on to the roof and installing the wonderous automatic liquid nitrogen system. I've been puzzling over all the bits I've been given for it over the last week - its a bit like a three dimensional jigsaw puzzle - and I think I have it sorted out now. Though heaven knows how it will actually work when its all assembled - that's another piece of Michael A's magic software I have to see in action!

Jack Doolittle, Mr. AGO, arrived at Pole last night. We've only had a brief chat so far, but Jack never expected to be at Pole right now - rather he thought he'd be in the field installing AGO number 6 (the last one). However it turns out that the pilot of the LC130 seemed to get cold feet about landing at the site, and aborted the mission after having made an initial drop off of advance equipment. A couple of guys who had been sent in to clear a runway with bulldozers had to spend 10 days waiting for someone to pull them out!

Michael Burton



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