Thursday, May 25, 2017

Aurora and time lapse photography from the South Pole!

The past couple of weeks have been busy and exciting here at the South Pole.  There has been a great deal of activity with the detector, but also, the moon has set, which means that the aurora are visible again. The moon is so bright that when it is up it obscures all but the brightest of aurora and even those aren't as exciting when you try to view them under a full moon.  Now that the moon has set and it has gotten dark, many of the photographers on station have broken out their cameras again and there will be more photos flooding their various social media accounts!

Before we get into the aurora, it is worth noting that IceCube had some big happenings last week. We generally run our detector configuration a year at a time.  It's not that there is a big difference from one year to the next most of the time, but it is a way we can break our data and filtering up into more manageable segments.  Most of our offline analyses are actually done a year at a time or with collections of "years" of data.  Last week, we transitioned from our 2016 physics run to our 2017 physics run.  This marks another year of successful data collection by the IceCube Neutrino Observatory! Martin and I assisted some of the scientists and technicians in the North in the transition.  This process involves updating some software on the detector, and in this case, we actually retired an older system in favor of a newer and hopefully more robust one. Overall the transition went well, and we are excited to be starting another year of particle astrophysics research with one of the greatest experiments ever built... not that I am in any way biased or anything!

Not only do I get to work on such an amazing experiment, but I am also very happy to say that I get to live an amazing environment.  Mostly, I don't spend a great deal of time outside, but when I do, there are times that I am treated to one of the most amazing light shows I have ever seen.  Martin and I had to do some repairs the other day out at the IceCube Lab.  Just as a reminder, this is a 3/4 of mile walk away in temperatures that lately range from around -70F to -80F with wind chills well below -100F.  While out there, Martin set up his camera to do a short time lapse (available soon for the public?).  He got some amazing shots, including one of the stills below.  After we had finished our work, we headed back, but the aurora were so amazing, we stopped several times to admire them.  Martin even tried to get a few more shots in before his camera froze. I have included one below that he took of me in front of the aurora.  For those interested in more of his photography, here again is a link to his flikr account:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/135762220@N06

Here in the near future, I think I am going to try my hand at a little bit of aurora photography. I don't know that I will be able to get anywhere near as good as Martin is, but maybe I can get a few good shots in here or there.

Besides Martin, there are also a few other people on station who have gone out several times to get aurora shots.  One in particular is Robert Schwarz.  Robert has spent more time at the South Pole than any other person ever.  He is currently working on his 13th winter at pole, and is planning to come back next year for one more winter.  Over the years, he has developed a skill at photographing aurora this includes a great deal of time lapse photography as well. He has a few websites with many pictures and his time lapses posted. I encourage you to check them out.

http://www.antarctic-adventures.de
http://www.facebook.com/southpoleskies
http://www.vimeo.com/polarlights

Between Martin and Robert and several of the others who I will try to link to in the future, we have an amazing group of photographers down here! They have done an amazing job of capturing the beauty that we get to see down here on a fairly regular basis, barring light pollution from the moon!

Other than that, things have mostly been going as usual. I am still working on learning French, and I think I am about to start on Russian. I have been practicing more on the violin, and I am starting to think about trying to memorize a few specific pieces I have been working on. I was trying to read a science paper a day, but that has slowed down a bit over the past week.  I am hoping to get a little more focused on that over the next week or so and maybe do some extra reading to get caught up. That being said, I am sure I know why you are all really reading this blog, so here are the pictures!


Martin snapped this picture of me (James) in front of some aurora and the South Pole Telescope (SPT) on our way back from fixing hardware problems at the ICL - Martin Wolf IceCube/NSF

Martin laying down in front of the ceremonial South Pole and the station, looking at the stars and aurora - Martin Wolf IceCube/NSF

Martin standing in front of the station with aurora in the background - Martin Wolf IceCube/NSF

Aurora over the South Pole Telescope (SPT) - Martin Wolf IceCube/NSF

Aurora over the station - Martin Wolf IceCube/NSF

Aurora over the station observation deck - Martin Wolf IceCube/NSF

The IceCube Lab in the starlight - Martin Wolf IceCube/NSF

The moon over the South Pole station - Martin Wolf IceCube/NSF

Martin out in front of some aurora - Martin Wolf IceCube/NSF

Martin got this pic of our station physician assistant taking pictures of aurora... How meta!

This is a shot of our station physician watching the aurora - Martin Wolf IceCube/NSF

Another aurora shot with the Milky Way in the background - Martin Wolf IceCube/NSF

A shot of the Large Magellenic Cloud from the South Pole - Martin Wolf IceCube/NSF

Martin and James posed for a picture in front of the ICL to send to the IceCube Collaboration during their most recent meeting - Martin Wolf IceCube/NSF

16 Hour DarkSector Sky Time-Lapse at South Pole
16 Hour Dark Sector Time Lapse at the South Pole (you may need to click on this one to really see it) - Martin Wolf IceCube/NSF


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Pizza Night at the South Pole

In general I love being down here at the South Pole, but I suppose in fairness I am a pretty positive person, and I try to focus on the positive and look past some of the negative things that happen, not just here, but in my life back home as well. The reality is, however, that not everything here is perfect. The fact that we are limited to 2 two minute showers a week is one thing that comes to mind immediately.  Somewhat off topic, but the first thing I am going to do when I get back to Christchurch when I get off the ice is check into my hotel and take an hour long shower, or maybe two... It will be glorious! But I digress...  I generally avoid the more negative things that happen on my blog, because honestly, they are usually small and not worth talking about.  That being said the past couple of month or so has had a few annoying things happen.

The first big annoyance has been the Internet. We normally have three scheduled satellite passes that provide Internet for everyone on station.  The first is normally the fastest. However, even at its fastest it is slower than what most people have at home.  It is far too slow to stream most video reliably, especially when all 46 of us are fighting for bandwidth.  So Netflix is definitely not happening, but on a good day, it is usually good enough to handle your general browsing needs, well, for the 3 hours it is up.  Under the right circumstance, it could be used for a Skype video call, which is kind of important for me right now, but we'll get to that in a bit. The next satellite pass is significantly slower.  It can take several minutes to load pages if you are trying to browse the web.  There are even times when you will try to access pages, but they continually time out and just won't load.  Sometimes you can't even get through to your email. Funnily, this satellite is called "Skynet". If this was the sentient network that would try to take over the world (as from Terminator), then I wouldn't be too worried about it!  This satellite lasts a little bit longer, around 5 or 6 hours, but again it is barely usable.  The last satellite pass is somewhere in the middle. Mostly it will load pages, but it still takes time.  When I am on it, I still have pages that time out, but usually it works if you are patient. This pass lasts around 3 or 4 hours.

The point of all this is that we have limited Internet access here.  Things are slow, but lately it has been worse.  Our fast satellite has been down for the past week and was already not working properly the weeks before that.  In fairness, I don't suppose I can complain too much about that as I have slept through that pass over the past month or so, but I just finished my ham radio class here and I can't give the exam without that satellite.  We have to have proctors watching from the North, and that is the satellite that has the best chance of getting a Skype video call through at the right time. Hopefully, these problems will be resolved soon, but sometimes, I get the impression that we here at the South Pole are not a high priority for the satellite people up North.

The second big annoyance has been the kitchen work.  Since I have had some questions about how the food situation is here, I will elaborate a little on that first. The majority of the time, we get our food from our cafeteria, or galley as we call it.  There are three meals prepared six days a week, and a small spread for brunch on Sunday.  If you work nights or are like me and for some unexplainable reason end up on a night shift, there is a leftover refrigerator that is usually stocked with food for consumption after hours. The leftover fridge is also the source of food on the one day of the week the galley staff doesn't work, Sunday, unless someone else on station volunteers to cook for everyone.  The food is provided for us so we don't actually have to buy anything.  The exception is junk food.  If you want beef jerky, candy, coke or something else like that you mostly have to get that from our station store, but I think that will have to be a post for another time. Even still, there is always coffee, cookies, and chips out in the galley for anyone to have if they get the munchies in the middle of the day or night.

A little over a month ago, some of the maintenance crew started a planned overhaul of the kitchen, and it went on for about three weeks.  They had to do this during the winter as there are only 46 of us here now vs. the 150 or so people here during the summer. Normally, I really enjoy our food here.  We have some pretty good cooks here and they do an amazing job with the limited resources we have.  Keep in mind, most of our food is frozen during the winter, and much of it has been here for a while. The milk is powdered.  It's hard to find green olives.  There is rarely ketchup and almost never mayonnaise.  The very few fresh vegetables come from our small green house (thank goodness for greenhouse tomatoes!). That being said, for those three weeks, much of our food was cooked on our emergency stove and in some industrial microwaves. For the most part, the food was OK, but it definitely lost some quality. There were more than a few days when people would opt out of the main course and stick to the side dishes, as the frozen meat cooked in a microwave rarely came out quite as well as we would like.

There are a couple of reasons I bring all this up.  The first is that I have had a few people ask about the food situation here.  The second, and actually bigger reason, is to say that the kitchen work ended a week or so ago, and last Saturday, the logistics working group volunteered to make pizza for everyone.  It was probably the best pizza I have had in a LONG time. They mentioned that they were going to cook for everyone earlier in the week, and everyone was extremely excited when Saturday evening arrived, and pizza was had by all! I have to confess, I have been thinking about trying to exercise and get in better shape while I am here, but on that night... I ate so much I made myself a little sick.  It was great!

The truth is I don't really feel like I have much to complain about.  Things are not perfect here, but there are places and people who have it far worse. I do miss my family sometimes. I miss regular long hot showers. I miss humidity.  I miss deep fried buffalo wings and green olives, and probably a thousand other things here and there, but the truth is, I am still really enjoying my time here. I am living and working with a great group of people in an awe inspiring place, and I can step outside at almost any time I would like and have an amazing view of the night sky from one of the most exotic places in the world.  In truth, I will be ready to leave in six months and get back to warmer climates, again with long showers, but the truth is I know it won't be long before I am missing this amazing place, and the wonderful community we have made here.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Six Months at the South Pole!

Today is a very exciting day for me! It marks six months at the South Pole.  I arrived here on November 2, 2016, a few days before my last birthday, and I have been here six months as of today. It has been a wonderful adventure so far and I am looking forward to the next six months, especially now that the sun has set, and we are having some amazing views of the night sky with the stars, milky way, and especially the auroras!

Over the past few weeks, life on station has been fairly routine. The temperatures went up a bit for a while, but are now holding around -90F with a wind chill of around -130F. I generally get up every day and the first thing I do is check email and check on the experiment I am working on, the IceCube Neutrino Observatory. I then try to move on to personal projects, assuming everything is running well and no one from the IceCube group up North has any requests.  Thankfully, the detector has been running very smooth lately, and with the exception of a few small problems and some calibration work, there hasn't been much that we've had to do.  As it turns out, however,  the one "big" problem we had to deal with lately was a failed power supply a few days ago.  For some reason since winter started, I have moved more to a night schedule. Really, this doesn't make much sense, as it is always dark here since the sunset, but somehow, even without any real sense of day or night, I still moved to a night schedule.  That being said, a few days ago, I had just fallen asleep when I got a call from Martin about the power supply which failed a little after breakfast.  Thankfully, Martin was on call and it was his turn to go out and replace the power supply.  Unfortunately, when he got out there, it looked the like the problem was bigger than expected and I ended up having to go out and help. Generally, it isn't that big a deal, but now that it is has gotten colder, and since our lab is about 3/4 of a mile away from the main station, by the time I walk out there my balaclava (face mask) has frozen over making it fairly difficult to breath...  not to mention we are still at roughly 10,000 ft altitude.  Suffice it to say, that walking out to the ICL and back can wear you out! At any rate, after I got out there, Martin and I did our work which ended up taking a few hours, and then I headed back to station for lunch and to get some sleep.  Martin, however, stayed out to get some more amazing pictures.  Overall it turned out to be a pretty long day, but it was still a good day, all things considered.

For the most part, winter has been an amazing time. The last power supply failure we had before this week was a couple months ago, and beyond that, our work has mostly been the occasional calibration run. I have been thinking back some over the past few months, and I remember when I first arrived, and we spent the summer working and preparing for winter. Even then I enjoyed my time here, but since the winter season officially started mid-February with all of the summer people leaving, the station has taken on a much different atmosphere. It almost feels like a totally different place. I had heard from some of the previous winterovers how much better it is in winter, and looking back now, I definitely have to agree.  Life is much more laid back now, and our interactions are so much more personal now that we only have 46 people on station. There have obviously been a few small conflicts here and there, but in general, everyone seems to be getting along very well. The people here on station come from all walks of life and political and philosophical backgrounds, but we respect each other and have learned to live together peaceably.

As for my personal projects, I am making progress, more some days than others.  I have been practicing the violin regularly, and there are times I really enjoy it.  Other times, it takes a little motivation to get myself to practice, but in the end it seems to be worth it as I feel that I have at least improved some over the past couple months.  I have been reading a ton, mostly science papers, and I have also been working on some computer projects. I have been playing around with and reviewing some network security ideas and practices, but I have also spent some time playing around with statistics and some programming languages.  In particular, I have been trying to spend some time learning ROOT and Octave, as they have some very powerful tools for statistical analysis. There have also been a few other little computer projects here and there. I am behind on my language studies, but not irreparably so.  I haven't spent much time on Duolingo over the past week and half, but I am hoping to jump back into it in the next day or two. I have also been thinking about a few other small projects that I had planned for the winter.  I'd like to spend some time studying for my instrument rating, and I would like to spend some time really learning Morse code. As of right now, these are not high priority, but maybe I'll start working on them soon.

Overall, things are going well.  I am still very happy to be here. The past couple of weeks, I have gone outside regularly to watch the auroras and see the stars. It is kind of a surreal experience. I have never lived in a place where you could step out at any time of day and there is a chance you'll see auroras.  On that note, my friend and colleague Martin has take some amazing aurora pictures.  I am posting some of them below, particularly for those of you who have not seen them already on facebook, but please check out his flickr account (https://www.flickr.com/photos/135762220@N06) for even more!




The moon and stars from the South Pole! - Martin Wolf IceCube/NSF

Auroras over the dark sector - Martin Wolf IceCube/NSF

Martin in front of the station with an aurora in the background - Martin Wolf IceCube/NSF

The IceCube Lab with auroras in the background - Martin Wolf IceCube/NSF

Aurora and the moon from the station observation deck - Martin Wolf IceCube/NSF

The station with an aurora in the background - Martin Wolf IceCube/NSF

More auroras - Martin Wolf IceCube/NSF

Another Shot of the station with auroras - Martin Wolf IceCube/NSF

A coronal aurora from the South Pole! - Martin Wolf IceCube/NSF

One last shot of the station with auroras - Martin Wolf IceCube/NSF







Wednesday, April 12, 2017

It's getting dark at the South Pole!


The past couple of weeks at the South Pole have been really great. Our detector (The IceCube Neutrino Observatory) has been fairly stable with only a few small issues that Martin and I have had to deal with.  The most "exciting" event happened last week on early Wednesday morning when the wind picked up. It turns out that the wind was blowing some cold air into the ICL (IceCube Lab) and was causing the building temp to drop below our lower limits.  Martin and I ended up having to wake up one of the maintenance guys on site to help figure out the problem and get it all fixed again.  Thankfully, all we had to do was close a vent and then the temperatures climbed back up to a safe level.  Additionally, since we have remote access to the equipment in the building, we didn't even have to walk out in the middle of the night.  We did everything on the station which was very nice, especially at 3 or 4 in the morning!

Cold temperature warnings aside, our weather here has been all over the place.  The temperatures last week got as high as -45F.  That is far warmer than I would have expected, considering that I just heard tonight we might hit -90F by this weekend! The funny thing about that is that I am getting used to the colder temperatures here.  I actually went out for a few minutes a few nights ago onto one of the decks wearing a t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops.  In fairness, I didn't stay out long, only a minute or two, but it is kinda funny to me that I was even able to get out for that long!  As I have mentioned in a previous posts, we had to cover all of the windows on station to prevent light from the station from interfering with some experiments here.  If we want to see what it looks like outside, we actually have to go outside.  So the other night I went out to see how things were looking. It was actually pretty amazing. I almost got a little giddy, staring up and the first few stars to be visible.  I am still so excited to be down here right now as it is getting darker and the long winter night is starting. The sun set here a few weeks ago, but it is still not completely dark. It has gotten dark enough, though, that now we are starting to see more and more stars.  In fact, last night I went out and saw the very first aurora of my life!  It was very faint and hard to see, but even still it was amazing.  I am really looking forward to the days ahead as it gets even darker and there are more stars and aurora visible.

Other than that, I have been staying busy as usually with my winter projects.  I have been teaching a ham radio class here that seems to be going well, though at times a little slower than I am used to. Normally I would teach this class in roughly 6 hours strait,  but I have spread it out over a couple of months down here.  If everything works out, and I can get things organized with the ARRL, we should be able to offer the ham radio license exams sometime next month!  I have also been doing language studies every day.  I finished going back through Spanish on Duolingo, and soon I will be trying to supplement with more external resources.  In the mean time I am still practicing French and thinking about adding Russian soon. I have been practicing the violin a few times a week, and I am enjoying that. The only area where I am a little behind is reading, but I have been making progress, just not as much as I would like.  Thankfully, I still have some time, and I am confident that it will all work out in the end.

I know it probably sounds a little cheesy, and you may be getting tired of me saying it, but I am still so happy to be here right now. I have a great job facilitating scientific research on one of the most amazing astrophysical experiments in the world.  I am about to see stars and auroras from an amazing location that few people will ever visit, much less at night. I am living and working with an amazing group of people here, and I am truly enjoying this adventure.

As it gets a little darker, I hope to add more pictures, particularly of the stars and auroras. Until then, here are a couple I took the other day.  These are probably not the greatest pictures, but hopefully, I can get some more of Martin's amazing photography soon and get those posted.



The South Pole Telescope (SPT), Bicep, and Keck at dusk.

A zoomed in view of SPT, Bicep, and Keck!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Sunset at the South Pole


The ICL at sunset - James Casey IceCube/NSF

The past couple of week have had some amazing moments here at the South Pole.  The sun has finally set, and it was beautiful. Unfortunately, the weather hasn't been very cooperative, and the visibility was low, so we weren't able to see much of the sunset, but thankfully, the weather did clear up enough a few times to get some amazing views as the sun dropped below the horizon. One early morning in particular, the clouds and fog cleared up and we were able to get out and take some great pictures... well, mostly Martin.  I am truly impressed with his photography skills, but I did get a couple pictures myself that I really liked.  You can see way more of Martin's pictures on his flickr site (https://www.flickr.com/photos/135762220@N06) or in a small album I have created with a handful of his pictures on Google Photos (https://goo.gl/photos/G2rSrre2hVAQsAtE9).  One thing that I kind of thought that was funny is that we were actually out from 2:30am to 4:30am taking pictures of the sunset. It seemed funny to me to be out at such a time for sunset, but that is one of the unique aspects of being down at the South Pole.  Another interesting effect is the famous green flash actually lasts much longer here.  Martin also got an amazing shot of that, but unfortunately by time I found out it was happening, the flash had ended.

As can be expected, we have special celebrations down here for all the major American holidays, Thanksgiving and Christmas and such, but we also have a few other special events that we do here.  In particular, we actually have a special Sunset Dinner where everyone gathers together and the galley staff goes all out and makes a special meal for everyone. We celebrated our Sunset Dinner this past Sunday evening.  It was an amazing meal.  We had salad using greens and tomatoes from our small greenhouse.  There was bison steak and duck for the main course and a desert of fruit, a truffle, and some creme brulet. Our food is generally pretty good here, albeit not always as fresh as we would like, but during these special dinners, the galley staff goes above and beyond, and they prepare some amazing food. During the event many people on the station volunteer to help set up and clean up during the day so the galley folks can focus on the meal prep.  Martin and I and many others volunteered to help out this time.  I spent a couple hours helping in the dishpit and setting up tables and such.  Martin helped with the table setup and decorations.  After the dinner was finished, there was a small gathering where people got together and just hung out for a while.  It was a great evening.

The galley for the Sunset Dinner - Martin Wolf IceCub/NSF

The main course for the Sunset Dinner: Bison steak, duck, and fresh greens from the local greenhouse - Martin Wolf IceCube/NSF


Desert for the Sunset Dinner: Fruit, a truffle, and some creme brulet! - Martin Wolf IceCube/NSF


On the science side of things, the detector has been running very smoothly.  This past week, Martin and I helped with some calibration work that was mostly handled by individuals in the North. On Monday, there was a Dark Sector open house.  The Dark Sector is a region off of the station where we try to minimize radio and other electrical noise for the experiments running out there.  Martin and I gave a tour of the ICL. Given all the activity on station the past few days, not very many people showed up, but it was still fun. We talked about the detector and the science we do, and then we showed everyone around the lab.  Afterwards Martin and I did some winter prep by putting up covers on the windows.  During winter we try to limit the light pollution from the station and the experiments around the station for some of the experiments running here that need it dark.  This means all the windows on station are covered to block any light from getting out.  Only red light is allowed outside, except of course in cases of emergency. This also means that to see the aurora and stars we will have to actually go outside where it is going to be very cold. That should be interesting...

Me standing in front of SPT/Bicep and the Keck telescopes on the roof of the ICL around sunset - Martin Wolf IceCube/NSF


On a more frustrating note, we have been having some issues with our Internet on site. Since we are so isolated from the rest of the world, we rely on satellites to provide Internet and phone communication.  For those curious, no we don't have satellite tv, and definitely no normal cell phone coverage. Our primary means of communication is through these satellites.  There are four satellite systems we access.  One is dedicated to emergency types of communications.  The other three provide access to general phone usage and Internet.  Unfortunately, even at the best of times, these satellites can be a little slow.  Even the fastest is too slow for any serious streaming, and it only lasts for about three hours a day... or it did until it went down a couple weeks ago.  Since then, we have only had the other two of our satellite systems working. One of these lasts for about six hours, but is incredibly slow.  You can load most web pages and use email, but it can take several minutes to do anything.  The last one comes on late at night and lasts for about three hours.  It has speeds somewhere in the middle, but with 46 or so people fighting for bandwidth, even it can get really slow at times, not to mention that it comes up late enough that it makes it hard to use it communicate directly with anyone back home as they are all in bed! I will freely admit that this is a bit of a first world problem, but keep in mind this is our only way to communicate in real time with friends and family, and it can be quite frustrating.  Hopefully, they will fix the problem soon, which as I understand is actually with the satellite dish in Christchurch, NZ.

Besides the Internet issues, things are going fairly well. Now that the sun has set, I am waiting for things to get dark here. We have already seen one bright star, but it will still take a few weeks before it gets dark enough to really see the night sky in all its glory. In the mean time, I am trying to keep focused on work and  my personal projects and enjoy my time here. While I have had a little problem focusing on the projects lately, I can definitely say that work is going well, and I am very happy here. I have been thinking about my time here and talking with others, and I think by the time winter ends and I head home, I will definitely be ready to go, but I know that I am going to miss this amazing and beautiful place with all the amazing people that I am living and working with over this year here. In the mean time, I am going to enjoy the experience while it lasts!

Many of the photos below were relatively recently taken by Martin.  Several were posted to Facebook, and I am reposting them here for those of you who are not friends of Martin or I on Facebook and haven't seen them yet.  He is an amazing photographer!

The green flash during sunset at the South Pole - Martin Wolf IceCube/NSF

Sunset in the Dark Sector from the station - James Casey IceCube/NSF

Another picture of sunset in the Dark Sector from the station - James Casey IceCube/NSF

The ceremonial South Pole marker at sunset - James Casey IceCube/NSF

Doug and I walking back during the IceTop Measurements - Martin Wolf IceCube/NSF

The ICL with the moon above - Martin Wolf IceCube/NSF


The sun behind the South Pole station - Martin Wolf IceCube/NSF

The ICL in the fog - Martin Wolf IceCube/NSF

Sastrugi in the sunset - Martin Wolf IceCube/NSF

A winterover walking out during sunset - Martin Wolf IceCube/NSF

Another amazing pic of the ICL - Martin Wolf IceCube/NSF

The ceremonial South Pole during sunset - Martin Wolf IceCube/NSF

Sastrugi and the ceremonial South Pole marker at sunset - Martin Wolf/NSF

Sunset at the South Pole - Martin Wolf IceCube/NSF

Sastrugi and the ICL around sunset - Martin Wolf IceCube/NSF

The South Pole Telescope (SPT) in the sunset - Martin Wolf IceCube/NSF


Sunday, March 12, 2017

Working outside at the South Pole


The past couple of weeks have been somewhat active on station, and there will be more updates about some of that activity in the near future, but I wanted to give an update about some work we did last week first. Four times a year, the IceCube winterovers go outside and measure the snow accumulation on the detector.  The reason for this is that the IceCube Neutrino Observatory has a surface component called IceTop which is primarily used for cosmic ray studies.  IceTop was originally very close to the surface, but over time, snow has built up on the tanks that hold the detector equipment, and in order to better understand the IceTop detector, we have to go out to each pair of tanks and measure the height of the snow build up. There are just over 80 tank pairs. So two days last week, we went out and took IceTop measurements.

Overall, it isn't too bad a gig, but the problem is that it is getting colder outside now that we are getting closer to winter.  This is the second time Martin and I have done it since we got here in November; the first time we did it was in December, when it was much warmer.  This time around we actually had a little help from the RAs on site, Doug and Adam.  On Wednesday we went out and it was around -60F with a wind chill of -100F. This time around, since there were four of us, we did things a little different.  We split up into two groups.  Doug and I went out on foot, and Adam and Martin took the LMC (basically think of a very slow snow tractor).  Doug and I would do a handful of tanks then meet up with Adam and Martin to warm up in the LMC and then we would split up again. Now, keep in mind, our detector is huge!  The entire detector is a cubic kilometer with the detectors being spaced around 125m on the surface which means there was quite a bit of walking between tanks... at temperatures that feel like -100F.  Thankfully, on Wednesday, we were able to finish a little over half the detector by lunch.  After some discussion, we decided to do the second half of the detector on Thursday morning.


The weather conditions on Wednesday, our first day out.

As it turns out, walking around outside for a few hours with a wind chill of nearly -100F really does wear you out... especially if you stayed up too late the night before working on other projects.  So, I spent most of the rest of the afternoon napping. I did wake up for dinner for a bit, but after that I was still a little drained, and napped some more.  Finally, sometime during the evening, I woke up in time to get some late night Internet'ing in.  A little after midnight, things got interesting.  A fire alarm went off in one of the external buildings and all the emergency response teams, which is basically everyone on station at this point, jumped into action.  Thankfully it turned out to be a false alarm, but it was definitely an exciting end to the day. Thankfully, I was already awake, so it didn't bother me too much, and shortly afterwards I was able to go to bed and get a little more sleep before our next outdoor adventure on Thursday.

On Thursday, things were a little colder, but there was a little less wind so it didn't feel quite as bad.  This time, Doug and I got to ride around in the LMC while Martin and Adam walked from station to station.  Trust me when I say that the LMC is much warmer and far more comfortable than walking! However, splitting up the work like we did made the measurements go much faster, of course at the expense of having to walk around in some pretty extreme temperatures!  But, honestly, our ECW (extreme cold weather gear) works fairly well.  Really, only my hands felt cold while we were out.  I really didn't feel that cold otherwise, until we got inside.  For some reason being back inside made me realize how cold I was starting to get!  Overall, it wasn't that bad.  We were able to get out and do some walking in a beautiful and albeit extremely harsh, cold, and isolated part of the world.

The weather conditions on Thursday, our second day out

Beyond that, things have been going well. I have spent some time working on my personal winter projects.  I have been reading a ton, and I am still working on Spanish and French studies.  I have also been practicing the violin. I am not so disciplined that I get to everything I want to every day... hence, the delayed blog post, but overall, I have made some pretty good progress, and I am optimistic about the coming months.  The sun is getting closer and closer to the horizon, so in a couple short weeks it should start getting dark here, and I have a feeling that will be an amazing and beautiful experience all its own!