12 Dec 02 - Paolo G. Calisse
I'm used to say that the organization and the efficiency of the South Pole station is really amazing, but this could turn in a problem when you are going to sleep here and discover that the station runs on a 24 hour pace.
"Antarctica: the kingdom of silent". If you think so you are deaf or never got to Antarctica. An Antarctic Station is quite and silent like Piazza Venezia in Rome at noon on a runny day in November during a strike of the public transport.
My "cubicle", 2.2 by 1.8 m large, lies just in front of the "South Pole Intl. Airport". It is really nice the first time you understand those wondeful C-130 lands just 100 m away and you can enjoy the view of their permanently rotating 4 propellers for all the time of their stay. It's a bit less funny when you discover that this huge and heavy aircraft can land also at late night 100 m away from the place you are supposed to sleep, stay for more than an hour to refuel, unload cargo and allow the pilots and flight engeneer to get in turn to the memorial Pole to take a nice picture to show to their girlfriend.
But there is more and more. Once the wonderful aircraft has gone to pollute the air somewhere else, what a better time to flatten the snow in front at your window than 4:30 am? I would like to convince you it's really an amazing experience to wake up in the middle of the night at the loudly, sad rithm of a tractor singing "The Never Lubricated Crawler Blues" just in front of your window. Imagine an oversized truck, 10,000 cm3 or so engine, pulling ahead a tool large 10m that flatten any sastrugy and reduce the ground to a huge, white - and useless - pool table. It takes usually some minutes to realize that the outstanding mechanical properties of compressed snow are able to transfer an impressively broadband spectrum of frequencies for kilometers without loosing one decibel one in the path.
This remember me an old story. I shared for about a month an home, in Newark, Delaware, with a nice group of students at the local University. I remember that the home was a complete, hopeless mess, and when I asked "how have you organized the cleaning up?" they look me with an astonished expression like if I told it not in - however poor - English, but in Serbo-Croatian or Swaili.
But on Sunday, those lazy guys, spending most of their time watching basket at the TV till 1am, unable to start a washing machine before the last pair of socks were standing up by themselves and enjoied a free run through the home, in an attach of restless action, where really proud to switch on their 400 cc muffler-free grass cutter at about 6:30 in the morning, and went up and down under my window to cut the grass in the backyard, including any type of wild flower that hopelessy tried to colonize the place. An activity that would come after looking at a collection stamp or washing my cars in my Sunday morning's wishes list.
Probably the hyperactivity of this station in flattening snow, originates in this ancestral wish recorded forever in the cromosome of the Americans since the first Pilgrims. 11th Commandement: cut the grass on the backyard of your home as early as you can on Sunday morning.
Anyway, I'll tell you what: if you look for some quiet place, DON'T COME TO ANTARCTICA. I spent several summers in Antarctic stations, and I still remember that in the Italian Station of Terra Nova was always the same: a restless buildup of buildings, stores, tanks, twentyfour hours a day, seven days a week; flattening roads, digging out caves, moving large quantities of whatever is possible to find from a corner to the other of the station just to move them back the day after, move the huger cranes up and down hills with the most unlikely media, like those kids with their pedal cars, almost in a urge to demonstrate that if you are there there is some reason.
Anyway, at the end I found myself tired at 4:55 in front of an hopeless cup of tea in the station's galley.
The rest of that long day went ahead with the ordinary series of little things to do. Michael "enjoyed" to clean up the AASTO (a possible reply to the puzzling question: where has the missing entropy of the Universe gone?) - or at least doing it with an high level of commitment, and me organizing the removal of stuff, writing email, and preparing the presentation of Dome C for Sunday.
11 Dec 2002 - by Paolo G. Calisse
For the first time since I'm here I have been able to wake up at a pretty normal time: 6am. The day has passed looking after various duties, but it has been mainly dedicated to the maintenance of the SUMMIT, the submillimeter tipper, one of the set of instrument we are using to measure the quality of the site for some astrophysical observation. The instrument has spent 2 winters on the roof of the AASTO, waking up at regular interval, and sending to my mailbox his data. An automated software procedure was processing data to compute the opacity of the sky at a wavelenght of 350 um, that maybe is not so important for you but it is for me as it is my PhD thesys.
Anyway, Michael and me today opened the SUMMIT, that is protected by a cover in alloy with a window in Zotefoam, a strange plastic material, and found inside some ice. Fortunately, this thick layer of ice had not condensed on the window, that would make the instrument immediately "blind". It condensed only on the alloy around the window.
This can be explained pretty easily. It is like the fog condensing on the "internal" side of a... window in winter. Imagine to be a molecule of water vapout. You are wandering up and down, left and right on the air of your room, without anything special to do, and meeting and hurting a lot of things like you. Time by time you touch the wall and bounce back. But suddenly you touch the glass of a window. Now, the window is cold, and so the water molecule will think: "Hey, the glass is colder than me." Now, warm object, if put in contact with cold one, will give them part of their energy, becaming colder, and so our generous molecule does. It gives part of its energy to the window so that its temperature get lower. But the temperature now can be so lower that the molecule becames a liquid, and so our poor molecule of vapour, become a molecule of water, or even ice if the temperature of the "glass" is lower than 0 degree. By bye enjoying flying! you are now condamned to stay on the glass.
This is what happened to the vapour contained in the lab, for example, that was trapped in the instrument when we closed it an year ago into the warm lab, after some maintanance operation. We moved the instrument outside in the cold of Antartica, and, as the air was much lower, the metal started immediately to cool down, and each molecule of our breath touching it immediately got trapped and changed its status to ice.
Fortunately, the window of the instrument is made of a material much less thermally conductive than alluminum (a strange exanded foam called Zotefoam), and so all the vapour condensed on the metal and was already ice when also the window cooled down.
Anyway, the instrument looks in pretty healty conditions. The electronics is working fine, the software has been updated directly from Sydney, the 2 motors inside it rotate smoothly, and so, after about 2 hour of tests and checks, we have closed the instrument again.
Tomorrow we will dismount It from the roof of the AASTO, and will put it in a box built for it at the Station for immediate shipping. Destination: Dome C, Antarctica, 1,600 km away, where 3 collegues of the UNSW will install it on the roof of a similar module, the AASTINO, or little AASTO. After one year we hope to know how much the observing conditions at Dome C are better than at South Pole. Because any antarctic astronomer knows that Dome C is better than South Pole to observe the sky in the so called submillimeter wavelength region, but the problem is how much it is better.