Antarctica

Week 3 Station Open for Summer - Optimal Arrival Time for Meals Theory

31st October - 7th November 1999

The station officially opened for the summer on Tuesday. Of course people have come in earlier, but they are given a change over period before frantic work begins for the summer. For me it was a chance to see routine operation of the experiments before summer calibrations, upgrades, and new installations begins.

With more people the station resources were strained once again. This time it was power. For a few days there were regular announcements that things had to be shut down or there would be a power outage. So for a few days people were working in semi-darkness. The problem was fixed for now by putting summer camp on emergency generators. So we can now all be incredibly wasteful and leave our monitors on.

The other noticeable effect of the increased population is the large queue for meals. We are trained professionals at queuing at this stage. But I'm still not that keen on the idea, and have thus been studying the arrival habits of the society. I have found the optimal time for minimum lunch queue to be 12:15, and dinner at 6:15.

I have two work areas at SP. There is a room called "Back of Science" were there are 10 or so computers. This is where I'm spending most of my time working out the complex interaction of computers. The experiments mostly have a computer or two that do the controlling and DAQ (Data Acquisition). The data is then transfered to other computers (usually automatically to BOS) where it is analysed and archived to computer tapes. Interesting events are removed and sent back to the US for immediate inspection by the relevant university teams. BOS is almost directly under my donga in the dome. From my door I take about 5 steps, go outside, down a set of stairs (the blast of cold air wakes me up in the morning), and in a door to BOS.

My other work area is Mapo in the Dark Sector. Mapo is about 1km from the dome - about a 10-15 minute walk. Mapo is named after Martin A. Pomerantz, the father of astrophysics at SP. It's an elevated blue building (well it was elevated when it was built) with two internal levels which contains astrophysical experiments such as AMANDA, Viper (a CMB - Cosmic Microwave Background telescope), and the soon to be installed DASI (Degree Angular Separation Interferometer - another CMB experiment). AMANDA uses about half of the top level of Mapo. The lab is full of racks of electronics, and computers everywhere. Of course there is the constant hum of fans and high tech type noises. The building has nice windows that are tinted and domed out. These give great views to the outside world (affectionately know to ANAREites as the GWH).

Sort of like an oversized outhouse about 300m from Mapo is a building which contains the electronics for the SPASE (South Pole Air Shower Experiment), and VULCAN experiments. These are integrated into the AMANDA experiments. These two experiments detect high energy particles entering the atmosphere. SPASE detects patches of electrons that shower down onto the surface of the earth which are initiated by high energy particles. VULCAN only operates in winter when it is dark. It detects the Cherencov radiation emitted by the particles travelling through the atmosphere. There is also an interesting experiment called RICE - Radio Ice Cherencov Experiment.

The area around the dome is divided up into sectors. There is the Clean Air Sector, which is upwind and thus contains atmospheric experiments. The Dark Sector, which is kept dark for astronomy, and other experiments that require low light and low rf (radio frequency) pollution. There is also the Down Wind Sector, and Quite Sector. Not sure how the last one got it's name as it's a hive of activity - summer camp.

Tuesday, the first one of November, was of course Melbourne Cup Day. Being a good Aussie I was going to abandon work for an hour or so and pay homage to the great race. Three years ago this day was marked by a huge station party at Casey. However at SP I was the only person aware that history was in the making and that for three and a bit minutes the most important thing in the world was a horse race over 3200m.

In the morning I checked on the internet what time the race was on. I then check what time we were going to have satellite coverage. The network was going to be no use to me - no satellite. Back in the old days communication with Antarctica was dominated by HF radio. Mawson was the first person to set up a radio link to Antarctica, via MacQuarie Island, back in 1912ish. Well Radio Australia on 7550kHz was my rescue. I went and visited comms, and radio tech Dave was extremely helpful, and enthusiastic about helping me fulfill a national duty. He found his trusty handbook and tried some of the more promising frequencies. He found a weak, but usable signal. Maybe it will be better later in the day.

I arrived back at comms a bit before 5pm, half an hour before the race. Dave said it was fine for me to try some other frequencies. Just in time for the news I got a very strong signal. It was worth the effort just to hear the news. The call of the race was the most exciting I remember. Of course I failed to pick the winner once again and the race was won by Rogan Josh.

With warmer weather - above -40C - I decided to go for my first ski. Bai had a pair of skis and said they should fit me. Since he is a bit smaller than me I wasn't so sure. But to my surprise the boots were a good fit. Didn't check the skis until I was heading off. A bit short at 160cm!! Anyway they were better than nothing. Well even if it was warmer, by the time I got to Mapo my toes were getting fairly numb. Off course Bai had big boots so he could put his boot liners inside the ski boots. Unfortunately these are the biggest boots on station and I'll have to make do. I'm sort of getting used to the altitude and only got really puffed skiing.

The next big change will be the arrival of the AMANDA crew.

To be continued .......

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