South Pole Diaries 1995/96



South Pole Diary February 2nd, 7pm

From Michael Burton.....

Well Craig has now departed leaving me on my own to fend with the IRPS. Craig's departure was in fact a long drawn out affair. We had a spell of bad weather; the winds changed (a rare event) and brought in `warm' moist coastal air from the west (that's grid west!), raising the temperature to a toasty -25 degrees and bringing in thick, low lying cloud. All flights were cancelled for 36 hours, and Craig's departure was put off twice, much to his frustration. The question he now faces is how many days does he have to spend at McMurdo? Already he has logged into the Pole once from McMurdo....

As soon as Craig departed I started having some troubles with the IRPS. I thought all was in hand until I started assembling the parts for the automatic nitrogen filling system on the roof, when nothing seemed to work. A string of faults have been diagnosed, nothing actually to do with the IRPS itself, but all to do with the bits that are supposed to make things easier for the winter-overer! At the moment I can't really say whether they all can be fixed up before I go. My main nitrogen storage dewar got rather severely damaged when I left some heaters on inside it while getting it ready for filling, and now reeks of a foul odour of melted plastic and other noxious substances! Panic and misery set in - the experiment was over, we were finished etc etc. But I forgot we are working with the Americans, who never come down with one of anything when you could have six! And indeed there are spare storage dewars of the right size around. So I have been spending the night wiring up a new dewar to fit our needs. Saved! Though that being said there are still a couple of other problems which I'm waiting for Michael Ashley to send me solutions to......

However right now Michael and all the UNSW crew are observing on the AAT, commissioning UNSWIRF, are new imaging Fabry-Perot for the IRIS infrared camera. And the weather is clear!! Michael's already sent me the first image obtained, the molecular hydrogen in Orion - and its great. I've been sending helpful hints on how to observe at Siding Spring while Michael A has been sending helpful hints on how to fix dewars at the South Pole! Tomorrow I'm going to try sending commands to the AAT to run the FP - its essentially the same software that runs the IRPS (and even has the name IRPS in it because Michael hasn't yet got around to changing all the names in the program!).

Actually I've been observing quite a bit at Siding Spring while at the South Pole; this is the third AAT run I've been involved with since arriving! And I was on the 2.3m the other night too - I believe there have been some complaints about my observing on two telescopes simultaneously whilst being at the South Pole! Of course, I have some good collaborators who are doing the work for me!

The barber visited town and I got myself a haircut! There are two hairdressers stationed at MacTown, and I tried to visit them on my way through, but they were all booked up (Navy personnel need lots of haircuts!). But it turns out that one of the hairdressers is an enterprising sort and has managed to persuade the NSF that personnel at Pole could do with haircuts too. So she's been posted here for a week, and has had a full queue of long-haired scruffies to deal with! Next year she's working on persuading the NSF that personnel in field camps need hair cuts too - a good way of getting to see Antarctica!

I also checked out the exercise facilities at Pole. There's a tiny room under the main dome full of assorted exercise machines and weights. Not quite up to the standard of the MacTown machines, but still pretty sophisticated. I climbed up stairs for a mile (very exciting!), cycled an obstacle course and ran in circles round a track which kept going up and down and changing the speed it came past me. I was in full sweat by the end. I need to time my next session to coincide with my biweekly shower ration!

Some big news in astronomy today, SOFIA and SIRTF, the two big infrared astronomy projects (one airborne, the other space) that have been the top-rated projects in the US astronomy priorities have been given a `new start' by congress. That means they have finally been funded, after decades of lobbying. Quite amazing considering the budget crisis the US has been going through. Harvey Mosely, the chief investigator of SPIRAC has been going around wearing T-shirts of several ex-observatories, including the KAO (the predecessor to SOFIA). We've decided not to give him a CARA T-shirt in case that means we get shut down to fund these new observatories!

Michael Burton



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