Thursday, December 16, 2004

Here for the duration

Hi All,

Welcome to my diaries. The pages are at the moment rudimentary; links aren't working etc. You will have to bear with me while I get them all up and running.

Well, I arrived here last Tuesday (the 7th of December, I think) and was handed a little red South Pole book with my room number and redeployment date. On previous trips this was important as I usually have only been here for a matter of weeks. This date said "Nov 2, 2005". Hmm. Sobering thought. So, I am here for the long haul, and I have to admit, there is no time where it seems longer than in the first week I was here!

I will be running a wee little experiment called ACBAR, on a telescope called VIPER, and no, I won't go into the acronyms because they are painful and convoluted as only Astronomical experimental acronyms can be. In any case, it is a 2m telescope and the instrument is looking deep into the early universe, collecting submillimetre radiation emitted from the first formings of the whole shebang. I will unfold more about the work (probably more than you ever wanted to know) in the following weeks.

I am working for Berkeley University, and the guys who are down here, including my boss Prof Bill Holzapfel, have done a great job of scaring the pants off me in my first few days here. "Now, if you don't press these in the right sequence, the whole telescope may spin at a hundred km/hr and can smash two inch thick steel cables..."
"Don't point the telescope there, because it will focus the light and cause everything to explode..."
"Ok, see that button, that big button that looks really tempting to push? NEVER press that button, or we all die..." Ok, exaggerating a little. But only a little.

Needless to say, I am hoping to get the hang of things really soon.

The Station is in the midst of huge construction. I am living in the new station, which is partially completed: two full wings still need to be built. The dome (pictured on the front page) is sinking fast, and it is now a three storey descent from the snow line down to the Dome. For the winter they are planning a crew of 100 (thirty more than last year, and DOUBLE the number two years ago), and of these most are construction. In fact, only 10 are scientists, so we are really the minority.

The air is exceedingly dry here: you can feel it sucking the moisture out of your nostrils, even in the warm building interiors. In addition, we are at 3000m, and for the first time (perhaps a result of a lower fitness level than usual) I have had some problems with the altitude, though now am adjusting to it better. The Polar Crud (usually the common cold), can have incredible effect down here where there are no latent bugs, and so lower immunities and people bring bugs from all over the place into a closed, cluttered environment. Earlier in the season, the flu brought down nearly a third of the station. I decided to go with the team and get sick as soon as possible, and am now trying to recover.

It is nearly Christmas, which is a fun time here, and I have been roped into singing with a couple of the bands (there are four this year) for Chrissy and New Year. This promises to be hilariously embarrassing, but as many of you who know me will attest, this never usually stops me. I will let you know how it goes ;)

The winter crew that I have met so far seem great, and everyone feels very positive about the winter (with the exception of me, who at this point can't see beyond violently spinning, burning and exploding telescope visions...). I will get a photo page up shortly, and more blogs as the season progresses and time permits. Email me with any informational requests - I will try to investigate and provide some answers. To family and friends: lots of love, and look forward to any emails as I'd love to hear news from the 'outside'.


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