Geoff Sims @ UNSW
Home South Pole Diaries 2012/13 17th December, 2012


Monday, 17th December, 2012

Introduction and FAQs (Geoff)

Welcome to the South Pole Diaries for 2012/13!

I am a 3rd year PhD student at UNSW, my thesis work involving the analysis of a variety of data from site-testing instruments on the Antarctic plateau. In particular, I have been looking at optical night sky brightness and the contributions from airglow and aurorae, as well as investigating atmospheric water vapour content of high plateau sites such as Dome A and Ridge A.

Watching the Aurora Borealis from Portland, OR, USA [July 2012]

In between data-crunching, the past couple of years I have been assisting with the construction of PLATO-R (PLATeau Observatory Ridge A). PLATO-R is an autonomous robotic observatory that controls a 0.6 m terahertz telescope named HEAT, run by Craig Kulesa of the University of Arizona. Our team is headed to Ridge A this summer to service the observatory (replace engines, re-fuel, etc.), and I am lucky enough to be a part of the expedition. Ridge A, coldest and driest place on Earth, as well one of the most remote (being approximately 1000 km from the nearest human being). This will be the second expedition ever to visit Ridge A, and you can read about the adventure they had last year at The Conversation by Michael Ashley, and at Two Frozen Kiwis from Luke, Campbell and Yael.

When I am not working on my PhD, I am typically found photographing the night sky, chasing total solar eclipses in some remote corner of the globe, or surfing anywhere from the crowded beaches of Sydney to the malaria infested jungles of India & Indonesia. I also work casually as a night sky guide at the historic Sydney Observatory.

For this introductory blog post, I thought it might be a good idea to answer a few frequently asked questions I have received over the past few weeks:

- Will you see polar bears?

No! Polar bears are found in the Arctic (northern hemisphere), not the Antarctic.

- Will you live in an igloo?

No! Igloos are found in the Arctic (northern hemisphere), not the Antarctic. For the most part, we'll be sleeping in comfortable heated rooms in the American-run bases of McMurdo (on the coast) and Amundsen-Scott Station (at the South Pole). At our final destination, Ridge A, we will be camping in tents.

- Wow, it must be so dark down there, you're gonna get the most amazing night sky photos!

True, there is very little light pollution and the skies are exceptionally dark in Antarctica, during winter. Unfortunately (?), for the duration of our trip the Sun will never set, so we will have no chance of seeing the stars or photographing the Aurora Australis. Fortunately, that means at Ridge A the temperature will (approximately) a balmy -45 degrees C (as opposed to -70 degrees or so in winter).

- Will your mobile phone work on international roaming?

........ No.

- Can you order a penguin burger at McMurdo?

OK, that one wasn't really a FAQ, but I wouldn't mind trying one if they did exist...

Preparing to photographic the Total Solar Eclipse in November 2012 from Pormpuraaw, Queensland

-- Geoff


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