Antarctica

Week 27 Easter - The Sorbet Experiment

16th April - 23rd April 2000

The sky is almost dark. The stars are out everywhere. I seem to spend the walk from the Dome to Mapo staring up - and tripping over. An amazing thing is the flare from Iridium satellites. When the sun hits them just right they become many times brighter than the brightest night star. It only last about 10-15 seconds. It looks a lot like a flare in the sky, covering maybe 5 degrees. Walking back to the dome one day I saw 3 of them. There also seems to be a lot of tumbling satellites in polar orbit. They blink, and look like a plane flying over.

While it's not completely dark yet, the aurora are no longer just faint glowing patches in the sky. Structures such as curtains, beams, and waves are now clearly visible. But the position of the sun is still evident by the deep deep red glow on the horizon.

Many of the experiments that look at the sky are turned on as the sky becomes darker. There are a number of different definitions of a dark sky. There are 3 types of twilight, civil, nautical, and astronomical. Civil is when it is just dark. So the point at which you would have to turn on car lights to drive. Nautical is darker than that - it's so dark you can't see the horizon to take a star shot to navigate. After this is astronomical twilight. Once this is over there is no trace of sun light in the sky - it's really dark. Astronomical twilight last a long time here.

It might be night but the moon came up at the end of the week and it almost feels like day outside. Surrounded by nothing but white snow, the surface almost glows from the full moon. The light from the moon is bright enough to cast a sharp shadow, and to distinguish the colours of the flags on the cane line. The sastrugi stand out as eerie shadows off into the distance. The frozen sea is back for awhile.

Because the earth goes around the sun once a year, and the earths axis is tilted to the plane in which the earth travels around the sun, at the pole we see the sun all the time for 6 months, and then not at all for the next 6 months. The moon is similar. The moon goes around the earth once every 4 weeks. And the moon's orbit is also tilted - it doesn't travel exactly above the equator. So at pole we see the moon for 2 weeks, and then it dips below the horizon for 2 weeks.

The night sky is beautiful everywhere I suppose - except cities. But here it is breath taking. And it seems so animated here with satellites, shooting stars, and the aurora dancing around. Maybe it's always like this but it takes 6 months of day to make us stand, stare, and really notice.

Being able to go outside and watch this becomes something special for many people, and for some of us the dark skies are important for work. In society at home light pollution of the skies is a real problem. The light from large cities light the sky up to a 100 of kilometers away. But in our little society it's possible to do something about this. But is there a problem with light pollution at the South Pole?? Yes! For some reason people need to be comforted with bright lights. Would you believe someone scared of the dark would come to the pole! There were 2 people last year, and this year there is at least one. Luckily this years person lives in the dome. I'm not sure how they get to work at ARO. Come to think of it I've only heard of them going out there once since it got dark!!

To safe guard our dark sky we have a group of self appointed light police. As I'm the only one with an experiment that is extremely sensitive to light, I'm sort of the final word in light policing. "Darryn's experiment will die if there are outside lights" - from someone who loves to watch and photograph aurora. Luckily many people in this group love to watch the night sky. Rodney has been running a very popular astronomy class. Lights haven't been a real problem. Hopefully it will stay that way - or the light police will have to go to work.

With Easter at the end of the week, our DA lightened the mood of the station by organising an Easter Egg decorating night. With eggs being a hot commodity I suspect we'll be eating things with hard boiled eggs in them for some time to come.

There were no extra days off for Easter, but the kitchen arranged it so they would work on Sunday and make us a special Easter Sunday dinner. The tables were set with table cloth, and candles. A special meal like this in the summer would be done in 3 sittings, with 3 rows of tables, and not an inch of room to spare in the galley. On Sunday night there was only 2 rows of tables, only going two thirds of the length of the galley, and we could actually move our elbows while sitting down!! Winter is so much nicer than summer!!

The meal of course was very nice. But my favorite part was the desert. Cheryl had decided on Sorbet, and had planned to make it in an electric ice cream maker. But when it came time to make it she couldn't find all the parts. With not long till dinner Zach came to the rescue with liquid nitrogen. Spy and Zach carefully poured the liquid nitrogen into the sorbet mix, Spy stirring very carefully. Then into the blender, and instant sorbet. Except there was a problem with the coffee flavour. It had cream in it (gellato??) and it's thermal properties were different, and it melted too much in the blender. Darryn has a bright idea - liquid nitrogen into the blender. Dumb idea. The very sudden mixing results in lots of evaported nitrogen - a LARGE expansion of gas - requiring much effort to hold the lid of the blender, preventing a fountain in the kitchen. Even so there was a lot of cleaning to do.

To be continued .......

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