Antarctic Astronomy Diaries 2002/03


31 October 2002
23 November 2002
30 November 2002
01 December 2002
02 December 2002
03 December 2002
05 December 2002
06 December 2002
07 December 2002
08 December 2002
09 December 2002
10 December 2002
11 December 2002
12 December 2002
13 December 2002
14 December 2002
15 December 2002
17 December 2002
18 December 2002
27 December 2002
29 December 2002
30 December 2002
31 December 2002
01 January 2003
02 January 2003
03 January 2003
04 January 2003
05 January 2003
06 January 2003
07 January 2003
08 January 2003
09 January 2003
10 January 2003
11 January 2003
12 January 2003
14 January 2003
16 January 2003
17 January 2003
18 January 2003
19 January 2003
21 January 2003
22 January 2003
23 January 2003
24 January 2003
25 January 2003
26 January 2003
27 January 2003
28 January 2003
30 January 2003
31 January 2003
02 February 2003
04 February 2003
11 February 2003
14 February 2003
17 February 2003

Tuesday, December 31, 2002

The new year begins

Wednesday, 1 January 2003

Today was very relaxing. Hardly anyone turned up for breakfast -
including me.

By lunch we had a full house again, and the entree was green salad with
"pate de foie gras". Our French companions quickly realised that
Australians, in general, do not eat this stuff and so an energetic
barter trade ensued. Tony came out ahead, although Arnaud (a geology
professor from Grenoble) also did rather well.

Given that that the UNSW team aren't exactly overtaxed at present, now
is perhaps a good time to describe our experiments at Dome C in more
detail. Over the past few years we've been able to show that the South
Pole is a superb site for astronomy - largely as a result of the extreme
cold and dryness, the high altitude, and the stable air. Dome C should
be even better - it's about 400 metres higher, is further inland and has
a much lower average wind speed. Clearly we need to get some equipment
there and measure the site properties as soon as possible. The main
obstacle to this is that the new station at Dome C won't be in
year-round operation for a few years yet. This is where the AASTINO
comes in, providing shelter, heat power and communications for all our

This summer we hope to get the AASTINO built, install all the
infrastructure, and leave it running throughout the year after we depart
at the end of January. There'll be two instruments in operation for the
first year: SUMMIT and the SODAR.

The AASTINO is a fibreglass shelter roughly the size of a shipping
container. Heat and power are provided by two Stirling engines. A
single engine could produce more than enough power, but by having two
engines we can provide some redundancy and also complicate our lives

A quick aside on names: For a brief moment a couple of months back it
appeared that we might give our two engines friendly names, so we could
easily identify them when discussing them over, say, dinner. I was in
favour of "Reverend" and "Robert", in recognition of the Reverend Robert
Stirling, the Scottish minister who first devised the crafty mechanism
in 1816 that would convert heat into mechanical work, thereby reducing
the physical labour of his parishioners. Jon, however, preferred "Sid"
and Nancy", for reasons completely unrelated to history. The thought of
Sid overdosing on jet fuel, switching off Nancy and then choking to
death on its own coolant caused us to rule out this option. In the end,
however, in a miserably dull victory of pragmatism over romance, the
engines have remained simply "0" and "1".

Additional power will be provided by two solar panels. These are rated
at a nominal 150 watts each, but under Antarctic conditions we should
see a total of 400 watts or more. Since it's totally dark from April to
August the solar panels will be useful only at the beginning and end of
the year. Four large batteries (each 200 Ahr x 6 volts), plus another
backup battery for the computer, will hopefully keep things running long
enough for us to resolve problems and restart the engines should they

Communication with the outside world will be via Iridium. Michael
Ashley, back in Sydney, has been working hard to develop a Linux
interface for the phone, and has worked miracles to achieve this. Once
Dome C closes for the winter (in the first week of February), our little
AASTINO will be on its own. We've built as much autonomy and
intelligence into the system as we can, but we also need to be able to
keep and eye on things from UNSW and take corrective action where
possible (and get our data back!)

Back on the l'Astrolabe not a lot is happening.

This afternoon the seas were as rough as they have been so far, with the
boat rolling 20 degrees to each side. In the lounge the chairs were
sliding around (regardless of whether anyone was sitting on them or
not). All the bar stools are bolted to the floor with turnbuckles,
and the TV, video and tables are firmly bolted down. Even so there
always seems to be something loose that goes hurtling across the room at
an unexpected moment - usually a person.

Tony has graduated from his cinematography course and embarked on a
photo shoot.

The evening closed with a gratuitously violent French movie about
wolves, Ninja American Indians and an very unconvincing monster, all set
in the French Renaissance. I thought it was woeful, Tony thought it was
great, Vanessa hid during the scary bits. Jon made up his own script as
he went along because he couldn't understand the dialogue.

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