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

Saturday, January 18, 2003

The two towers

Fresh orange juice (make it yourself with the electric juicer) and straight-from-the-oven croissants, baked by Jean-Louis, make a good start to any day - especially a Sunday.

We began by getting our various networks up and running in the AASTINO, and practised remotely switching on and off the various pieces of electronics and other hardware crowded into the AASTINO. It is a sad fact of electronic life that, from time to time, computers and other things simply stop working. The reasons are known only the computers themselves; the Macintosh "bomb" icon and the Windows "blue screen of death" are final and totally unenlightening. Fortunately, turning the offending device off, then on again, usually clears the problem. In the AASTINO, however, there will be no-one to push buttons, unplug power cables, or hit "reset". We've therefore tried to foresee every eventuality, and have provided a way of remotely shutting down and restarting every single device. Most of these things can be done by us, from back at UNSW, via the Iridium and the Supervisor. But what happens if one of these two devices crashes?

Here's what we plan: the Iridium phone will be restarted once per day, automatically by the Supervisor computer. The Supervisor itself will be allowed to run continuously; however if it sulks and refuses to talk to us for a day, or if it crashes, the wakey-wakey board will step in and hit it on the head; restarting it 4 minutes later.

The TentTrickiest of all are the engines. We are finding that they run beautifully once they are alight, but that starting them at this altitude is not easy. Jon is working away to find the magic combination of air, fuel, and other factors, but in the meantime we're very reluctant to periodically shut down an engine just to keep it on its toes. In particular, we don't want the Supervisor to go feral and shut an engine down accidentally. Solving this one will be today's challenge.

Just before lunch a pair of journalist from the Italian national TV network RAI Uno arrived at the AASTINO. They had a camera that was much bigger than Vanessa's and a tripod that would have brought tears to her eyes. They settled in and started filming everything they could but, as lunch was approaching, we decided to leave them to it.

After lunch we read our emails and were horrified to learn the terrible news that Mount Stromlo Observatory, near Canberra, had been largely destroyed by fire, along with some 380 homes in Canberra. Our hearts go out to our friends and colleagues who are putting the pieces back together after this tragedy.

Returning to the AASTINO we found the RAI Uno crew back at work. They had erected a 5-metre long boom with the camera on one end, all counterweighted and mounted on a tripod, with a remote TV screen to see what they were filming. This allowed them to take sweeping shots from high and low, and achieve otherwise impossible camera angles. It's going to be an awesome production.

Following the weekly all-station briefing meeting, we actually took some time off (it is Sunday, after all). Our relaxation took the form of a two-hour tour of the new station, kindly organised for us by Mario Zucchelli, head of the Italian Antarctic Program. Our tour guide was Jean-Paul Fave, construction advisor.

Standing on the roof of the new station, with the old station in the background. Photo by:  Serge DrapeauThe station consists of two 16-metre diameter 3-storey cylinders, linked by an elevated passageway. One cylinder will be for "noisy" activities, and has the restaurant, kitchen and lounge room on the top floor. On the floor below is a gymnasium and lots of storage, while the lowest floor has workshops and mechanical services. The other cylinder, the "quiet" one, has laboratories on the top floor, and the sixteen bedrooms on the floor below. Some of the rooms have a quite outstanding view of the AASTINO and the Nice tower, and the astronomers are already queuing up for the best windows. The lowest floor has an extensive medical facility, offices, flight operations and the all-important radio and communications room.

A unique feature of the design is that each cylinder is supported by six hydraulic operated legs. These can be adjusted in height to compensate for creep of the ice and for snow accumulation. It's going to be a magnificent facility when finished. It will operate year-round, starting in about 2005, and will have a complement of 16 winter-over people.

Meanwhile, RAI Uno continued to zoom and swoop across the AASTINO from all possible angles. I think they like us.

To complete our afternoon off, we headed out to the Atmospheric Science area, where Rich, Delphine, Bob and Von have created a most impressive little research facility over the past few weeks. Rich (from the US) and Delphine (from France) have erected a 30-metre high tower, an incredible feat in these conditions. They did it all by hand, the only motorised assistance being in the form of a Skidoo, driven by Von, that hauled each new 2-metre section up via a pulley fitted to the top of the most recently constructed section. We climbed to the top and enjoyed incredible views of the station, the AASTINO, and the vast, empty horizon. The purpose of the tower is to allow extremely accurate measurements to be made of the reflectivity of the snow, from various angles.

Complementing these measurements are those of Bob Stone, who has an instrumented sled (appropriated dubbed the "Bob-sled") which is towed behind a Skidoo to ensure that the measurements from Rich and Delphine's tower are representative of the snow over a wider area. This work is all aimed at checking (or "validating", in NASA parlance), the performance of a earth-observation satellite launched last year.

Meanwhile, Von is making very accurate measurements of the infrared sky brightness - something of great interest to astronomers as well as atmospheric physicists.

It looks as if my stay at Dome C will come to an end on Wednesday, giving me just over 48 hours now to make whatever contributions I can. I'll be flying by Twin Otter to the US coastal station of McMurdo, then north by C-141 to Christchurch. Jon and Tony will remain here until 4 February - hopefully enough time to really shake the system down.

After the tours we settled back into our routine of making things work in the AASTINO. A major success was getting the webcam working. We hope to be able to put images online soon - Iridium satellite phone willing. We've set it up inside the AASTINO, looking out the window towards the new station. When we finally leave at the end of summer, we will add a large mirror on a pole outside so that we can also see the AASTINO. We've identified just the mirror we need - it's screwed to the
wall in the bathroom. Sounds like a job for delicate negotiations, followed by some quick work with the cordless screwdriver.

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