Antarctica

Weeks 38 to 41 Total Eclipse of the Moon - Sunday Rounds

2nd July -- 6th August 2000

When I was at Casey I thought the worst period was just before mid-winters. From talking to many people that had wintered with the Aussie's I'd come to believe this to be true in general. Maybe we're a special case, but this post mid-winters period has been the worst for me in terms of the affects of winter blues and the claustrophobia of living here. So as usual I've dealt with this by concentrating on my work and hoping the time will go by fast enough. Yes, life goes from one extreme to another here. Extremes in climate and extremes in emotions. This tends to make it difficult to keep on an even keel. The spice of life??

On Sunday the 16th there was a great event. It was one of the longest total eclipses of the moon in a very long time. Of course there are quite a lot of professional scientist here, and being curious people (ha ha) we get very excited about these things. But at a place like here we also have many very enthusiastic amateur scientist. Amateur isn't a very good description as many of them help us daily to do our work, and in that sense they are as much scientist as us. But you get the idea - a lot of people were waiting to see this big event.

It was blowing with poor visibility for days leading up to Sunday. Not a good sign. But then on Sunday morning the wind changed direction and the visibility started improving. By the afternoon the wind had almost stopped and the horizon was clearly visible. Perfect conditions!

A heap of us decided to meet out at ARO (Atmospheric Research Observatory) to watch the eclipse. When you're inside the dome it takes some effort to see the outside world. Either you go up to Sky Lab, or make the trudge out the dome entrance. Either is some effort. ARO is a nice place with a lounge area, TV, and stereo. Those Atmospheric blokes know how to live. And to see outside there are windows in one room which can be opened up, and there are doors out on to the landings, which then go up to the roof. Perfect for eclipse watching - and relaxing.

The moon was highish in the sky - as high as it gets here - and just to the left of the dome. The full moon seems so bright here, reflecting off the completely white landscape. The sastrugi stand out as grey shadows. At not long after 11pm a grey smudge appeared on the right edge of the moon. We'd had quite a discussion about which side the shadow would appear. Because of the rotation of the earth, the heavens appear to rotate from the right to the left here. Going from a new moon to a full moon the moon is moving away from the sun. So it's motion is ever so slightly against the apparent motion of the rest of the heavens. It slowly moves from left to right with respect to the stars. And of course an eclipse occurs when the moon goes into the shadow of the earth, the anti-solar point of the earth. From all this one knows the shadow of the earth will appear on the right of the moon first. Thankfully it did - or I'd have been worried.

The earth shadow on the moon was very dark. Much darker than I've seen with any other lunar eclipse. By the time totality had been reached the moon had become a very deep orange colour, which became deeper and more subtle as it went deeper into the shadow, and less light refracted and scattered by the earths atmosphere reached the moons surface. It was an amazing sight. The landscape went from blindingly bright to very dark. A total solar eclipse would be something to behold at the pole.

If this wasn't amazing enough, there had been a lot of solar activity a few days before, and an amazing aurora appeared during the eclipse. We see lots of auroral activity here. Most of it is just grey smudges in the sky. Not very thrilling. But then sometimes it is breath taking. This aurora was the best I've ever seen. It started as a huge curtain draped over the sky as it approached. As it went overhead it became a explosion from the zenith, with beams radiating out from right over head. And then it became a bright sharp ribbon of light with waves rippling along it. Every so often the waves would get so large they would "break" and become vortices of twirling light rotating like massive whirlpools in the sky. It was the greatest display I've ever seen in the night sky.

We were having a lot of fun out at ARO with the moon and aurora. But to make it an even more festive occasion, it just happened to be Sonja's birthday on Monday. So at mid-night Cheryl brought out a cake she had sneakily made that day - and even more sneakily got out to ARO, and bubbly appeared. Almost a quarter of the station came out that night, and it was one of the best nights of the winter.

South Pole isn't that big. But it is sort of spread out with many outside buildings and lots of hidden services areas inside the dome. I've seen most of it, but being my home I'd like to see all of it. There are people that fix specific parts of the station, such as carpenters and plumbers. But we also have Jake and Sonja, who are Utility Technicians (known as UTs); They fix everything. Once a day they do rounds, wandering around the whole station, checking every part of it to make sure all the heating is working, that the temperatures are correct, that ventilation pipes aren't forozen closed - that we aren't about to have a disaster. They do this every day including Sundays - which they take turns doing. Since they go almost every place on the station, I asked Sonja if I could tag along on her Sunday rounds.

I suppose even with the occasional great event like the eclipse, in general life is on average fairly mundane here. This probably account for my excitement about visiting places such as the Rodwell. Of course I'd seen it from the outside, but never been inside. I'd never have guessed that there was a level below the surface where the winches and pumps are. It was sort of like a mini AMANDA hole, with a huge melt bell a few hundred feet down. They even ream the hole ever so often to keep it open, and use lots of duct tape when lowering the pump again. I was very excited about the duct tape and checked out the brands they used.

Other places we visited where I'd never been before was the BIF (balloon inflation facility) building, and the emergency power plant. The BIF was much more comfortable than I expected. There is an office area with nice chairs (rare commodity here), computers, and stereo. I'm surprised the people that use the BIF don't hang out there more. It also has a very large, high ceiling room, where the balloons are inflated before the huge doors are opened and the balloon taken out for release. The emergency power plant wasn't quite as grand as I'd hoped. The two gen sets there are SMALL. I hope we never have to rely on them.

As I mentioned I've been concentrating on work a lot. And I have a lot to get done before the end of the winter. I'm completely rebuilding and documenting the UNIX system here. While maintaining a reliable functioning system, this can be tricky and time consuming. Along with the 10+ emails requesting information, or small jobs to be done, my days can be quite full. So I spend a lot of time in front of my computer each day; I write an awful lot of words about garbage like the state of the experiments. At the end of the day it's hard to sit down and write personal emails. So I'm sorry I don't write you all as much as I'd like. But I appreciate your emails very much.

To be continued .......

p.s. Cheryl made fortune cookies recently. This is our fortunes at the pole. Use your imagination about "happy sock". I got "It's a holiday somewhere, have a drink".

South Pole Fortunes

  • May the zipper on your carhartts never freeze open.
  • May a dog never fart in your face.
  • May you leave here with all your socks.
  • May you never be without a 'happy sock'.
  • Expect financial security one day - in your dreams.
  • You will travel to a far away place in the next year.
  • Expect a change of colors - white to green.
  • Real milk does exist out there - somewhere.
  • Carharts are a good fart suppresser
  • You will find inner peace and tranquility - not.
  • You will be in top physical condition - not
  • Your family is spending all your money.
  • Endless shower time will come to you soon.
  • One day, you will have a bathroom all to yourself.
  • One day, you will be in a place where the ratio of men to women is equal.
  • Old Pole holds the secret to true happiness.
  • You will find a secret buried treasure in a nearby abandoned station.
  • DO eat yellow snow.
  • Bunny boots in bed are a real turn-on.
  • Turn to the dark side, don't return your gray socks to the CDC.
  • You WILL find out who the door slammer is.
  • You DO look sexy in your carhartts.
  • Enjoy each and every day - oh yeah, you're at the South Pole - forget it.
  • Someone, somewhere, will think you are cool.
  • It's a holiday somewhere, have a drink.
  • A virus will attack the South Pole population. You will be the sole survivor, but will carry the virus to the world and ultimately be responsible for the demise of humanity.
  • 2 for 1 special at the at Atomi Club!
  • You will find your true love if you take a shower.
  • You will get what you deserve.
  • You are misinterpreted and misunderstood, and it won't get better
  • Seven senses will soon have severe stimulation.
  • Make no mistake about it . . .
  • Trix are for kids.
  • Enjoy better living through chemistry.
  • Nevermind . . .

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