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!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Thing at the South Pole!

After station close, there is a tradition that we participate in down here at the South Pole. Everyone gathers together and watches the movie "The Thing".  I have heard about this tradition for years, so I was very excited to actually be able to participate this time around! In fact, there are three movies called "The Thing", and we watched all of them.  It took around six hours, but it was a ton of fun.  The original version was made in the 50s, and that one actually takes place at the North Pole.  We started with that one and then went on to the 2011 version which is actually a prequel to the 1982 version by John Carpenter, which we finished with.  The last two actually take place in Antarctica which is why they have become traditional movies to watch.  The one thing I get a huge kick out of is the fact that it is pretty much taken as a given, at least in the new two movies, that Antarctic stations have dynamite and flame throwers... I have been looking around, but I haven't been able to find either, and I don't know what we will do if we get invaded by aliens!

Since we closed the station last week, we have started to settle into our winter routines. Our station responsibilities have shifted a little bit over the past week. During the summer, everyone has to take turns cleaning their shared bathrooms once a week, and the rest of the station is mostly taken care of by the stewards.  Since we have a large population drop during the winter, there is only one steward, so we split all the cleaning responsibilities into different groups around the station.  Each week groups shift change responsibilities and we have a different area of the station to clean. We started this new schedule this week, and it hasn't been too bad.  I have a great group, including my IceCube colleague Martin and the RAs Doug and Adam. We also take turns now washing dishes, but given the number of people on station, that should only happen once every month and a half or so.  I did my first turn in the dishpit this last weekend.  It turns out it was a lot more work than I was expecting!  I think I am going to try to volunteer some to help out more so it is not so bad for others. It is actually pretty common for people to volunteer in the dishpit, and I think I now see why.  If you have more than one person there, it makes things much easier!

Other than that, things are going well. I got a little behind on some of my winter projects last week due to station close and a few other things we had to do with the detector, but I have been doing well this week. I started some language studies this week: French and a bit of Spanish review on Duolingo.  If anyone is interested in learning or refreshing a foreign language, you should friend me on Duolingo so we have that extra level of competition.  It will help us keep each other motivated, I think. My username there is Hanavi.

One area that I am making some good progress in is reading. I have been reading a ton, mostly physics papers and books, but I have an extensive reading list that I am hoping to put a dent in this winter, and I have started on one of the bigger books on the list: War and Peace. I don't read as much as I would like.  When I talk to people, I generally find that they have either read way more or way less than I have.  I tend to be somewhere in the middle. I also tend to read slowly at times, but that usually isn't an issue as I can be a very patient individual, but War and Peace is a long book.  It may take me a while to get through.  I have read some long books before, so as long as I don't get bored, this one shouldn't be a problem... We'll see if it keeps my attention!

I have also started settling into a violin practice routine. I even picked up the trumpet and guitar for a few minutes yesterday.  Unfortunately, after about 15 minutes, my lips were so tired and sore, I had to put the trumpet down.  Similarly, I don't have calluses on my fingers any more so the guitar playing didn't last as long as I would like, either. I figure if I can do 15-20 min a day for the next couple weeks, I will be in a better place for both, and before too long I will be able to play for an extended period of time again.

On a bit of a personal note, my sleep schedule has been a little weird.  I am a bit of a night person, but that really shouldn't make a difference here, except that I have started to move into a night schedule. I think I would just prefer a longer day, so my schedule keeps moving later and later!  Until recently, I have tried to stick with a fairly normal schedule due to meal times, but that has started to slip some.  Given the nature of my responsibilities here, I do have some flexibility in my schedule, but I am not quite sure, how far I want to let my schedule flex.  Besides meal times, I would like to be awake for the internet which is only up a few hours a day, and I don't want to miss out on some of the social activities. I suppose we'll see how it all works out, so far it hasn't been too bad.

So far, winter is going well.  The sun is still up for a few more weeks, but the temperatures have started to drop.  We have seen temps going down to below -50F with windchills below -80F. As long as I can stay productive, I think this will be a great winter!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Closing the South Pole Station for Winter

There are basically two seasons at the South Pole, summer and winter. Summer lasts about three and a half months, and is at least a little bit warmer. The sun stays up 24 hours and doesn't set.  The temperature this season reached a high of just under 1F though it was mostly around -20F. During the summer season we have around 150 people on the station at any given time.  Most of these people are here to do upgrades and fix problems on the station or with their experiments so that they are ready for the winter.  Throughout summer, there are regular flights into and out of Pole.  Many people come in or out.  Supplies are brought in. There are even some tourists.  After the station closes for winter, that all changes.  The winter gets much colder.  The lowest temperature can go below -100F.  Sometime in March, the sun will set over the course of a couple weeks.  Then finally in April it will start to get dark giving 24 hours of night.

Yesterday was an exciting time for those of us spending the winter here at the South Pole.  We closed the station for winter.  This means that the last of the summer support people flew out, and there are no more big flights in or out of the station.  There will be a couple of smaller planes that will stop here to get fuel on their way across the continent to get home, but even those will stop coming in soon.  We are effectively on our own at this point. There are 46 people that will be spending the next eight and a half months living and working together at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.  It is a very exciting experience for all of us. There have only been around 1,500 people to spend the winter at the South Pole. Interestingly, more people have summitted Everest than have spent the winter here.

The closing of the station marks a transition for us.  This is the point many of us have been looking forward to for the past several months.  It is the beginning of an amazing adventure that few will ever experience. The station is much quieter now.  Just about everyone who is wintering knows everyone else.  The sun will be setting soon, and it will bring with it one of the most beautiful night skies in one of the most extreme and isolated places in the world.  As an astrophysicist this is especially appealing to me. Not only am I working on what I feel is one of the greatest astrophysics experiments in the world, the IceCube Neutrino Observatory, I am also going to be able to step outside and see the stars and aurora from a place very few people ever set foot. I have heard that some artists believe science strips away some of the beauty of nature, but in my experience, the opposite is true.  When I see the stars, I am reminded of the complex processes that make them work, the vast sizes of the stars and galaxies, and the huge distances between them. To be able to experience that awe and wonder at such a unique place as this... I can't even fathom how amazing it is going to be!

There will be difficulties this winter, I am sure. Living with the same 45 other people in such a limited space will almost definitely cause at least some minor conflict, but we have an amazing group this year, and I am confident that we can work through any issues we run into. I think each and every one of us is looking forward to the adventure ahead in their own way and for their own reasons.  Now that station has closed, I am looking forward to the next major milestone, sunset.

The last of the summer crew loading the last Herc of the season!

 The last plane circled and did a fly-by.  Several winterovers gathered on the station observation deck to watch!

The last plane departing, leaving us here alone for the long Antarctic winter!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Particle Astrophysics at the South Pole!

One of my hopes in doing this blog is to convey how amazing the science is that is taking place down here at the South Pole. So I would finally like to talk about the scientific experiment I am working on.  As I have stated in the past, I am very fortunate to be working here at the South Pole on the IceCube Neutrino Observatory (http://icecube.wisc.edu) . I am also working with another experiment called ARA, which will be discussed in a later post.  IceCube is a high energy neutrino observatory, and I am going to give a small description of the detector below along with some of the science we are working on.  I am trying to be as understandable but as concise as possible, so please forgive me if things seem a little pedantic at times. Also, I apologize in advance for the length of this post, but what can I say? It is literally particle astrophysics we are talking about here...

To understand IceCube, you need a little background in neutrinos. Neutrinos are the lightest (massive) particles we have ever observed.  Many people are familiar with atoms.  Atoms are the smallest particles that we generally interact with from day-to-day.  For a long time, atoms were believed to be the most fundamental particle.  Then, around the turn of the twentieth century, we found out that atoms could be broken down even further to protons, neutrons, and electrons.  It was then believed that these were the most fundamental particles.  After this we began to probe deeper and discovered that protons and neutrons could be broken down even further into particles we call quarks. So far as we now know, these quarks can't be broken down into anything smaller, and similarly, the electron is also a fundamental particle.  Many of you may be familiar with the periodic table:

Particle physicists have a somewhat analogous  table:

This table comprises the most fundamental particles we know about.  All of the particles we know about (excluding perhaps dark matter and dark energy) are made up of these fundamental particles.  The important thing to know for our purposes is that there is this strange particle called the neutrino which is a fundamental particle related to the electron.  In fact, there are a group of these particles called leptons.  Three of these leptons are in a sense bigger and carry a charge: the electron, muon, and tau. For each of these particles there is a corresponding neutral particle called a neutrino: the electron neutrino, muon neutrino, and tau neutrino.  We say these are the three neutrino flavors. These neutrinos are so "small" that we don't actually know how "small" they are.  Where in this case "small" refers to mass.  It is actually still an unanswered question in particle physics: What are the masses of the three neutrino flavors? That being said, IceCube studies these neutrinos in order to do all sorts of astrophysics and particle physics.

In particular, we look for high energy neutrinos with energies from tens of GeV to over a PeV.  This is a huge energy range.  Unfortunately, it is very difficult to put this energy in every day terms.  The only comparison that seems to make any sense at this level is to compare the energies to those of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN.  The LHC is currently the most energetic man made particle accelerator ever created. These energies are so extreme that there were a few people back when the LHC was about to turn on that were concerned that it could possibly create tiny black holes that would destroy the earth.  The energies it was going to operate at were on the order of tens of TeV.  For those of you who are totally confused right now, or if you have just forgotten all your prefixes, let me explain:

IceCube observes energies from 10,000,000,000 eV to over 10,000,000,000,000,000,000 eV

The LHC observes energies up to around 10,000,000,000,000 eV

Notice that the highest energies that the LHC creates fall well within the range of the particles IceCube observers. In fact, one of our highest energy observed particles is estimated to have an energy 1,000 times greater than the energies that are seen in the LHC. I think it is safe to say that the LHC won't be destroying the Earth any time soon!  To be clear, our atmosphere is constantly being hit by particles with more energy than the LHC explores, and IceCube is one of a handful of experiments that observes these particles to do physics.  In fact, one thing IceCube hopes to do is to find the astrophysical origin of some of these particles.  This is one of the interesting things about our detector.  It can detect particles with much higher energies than we can explore with any man made particle accelerators.  That is not to say that the LHC is not an essential experiment.  In reality, it is an amazing experiment doing very important particle physics research.  They explore particle interactions in a way that we cannot and are able to do physics that would be impossible with our detector.  Similarly, the same can be said about IceCube.  Our experiment is complimentary and explores physics regimes that would difficult or even impossible with the LHC.

In IceCube we observe these high energy particles to do astrophysics and particle physics.  We do everything from study the most energetic and violent astrophysical events involving exploding starts and colliding neutron stars and black holes to fundamental particle physics studying the properties of neutrinos and finally to the most exotic physics involving dark matter and even searches for magnetic monopoles.  As it turns out, neutrinos are great for studying the universe!  As I said before they are neutral particles, and they also very rarely interact with other particles.  They also pass through the universe without interacting with magnetic fields that would otherwise alter their direction. This means that they can pass through the outer layers of stars and give insight into the processes that cannot be seen with normal telescopes. Unfortunately, this also makes them very difficult to detect.  In fact, this is one reason we are at the South Pole!

The IceCube Neutrino Observatory is located between 1.5km and 2.5km in the clearest ice in the world here at the geographic South Pole.  Not many people realize this, but at the South Pole we are sitting on almost 3km or over 9,000ft of ice.  At the depths of the IceCube detector, the ice is so clear, that it is clearer than any ice that can be made by any person on earth.  It is clearer than glass.  We have instrumented roughly one cubic km of ice with over 5000 very sensitive light detectors called photo-multiplier tubes.  This is over a gigaton of ice that we use!  The ice that is in our detector weighs more than all of the people on Earth combined!  We need all that ice because the neutrinos are so difficult to detect.  In fact, we don't even detect the neutrinos directly.  We detect the results of neutrino interactions.  For those who have heard of a sonic boom, we see something similar in our detector.  Every so often, a neutrino will come through the ice and interact with an ice atom and create a new charged particle.  This charged particle will move through the ice faster than the speed of light (in ice) and create a flash of light called Cherenkov radiation.  This is just like when a plane moves faster than the speed of sound and creates a sonic boom.  Now, I can tell some of you may be concerned because I said the particle was moving faster than the speed of light, and you may have heard that NOTHING moves faster than the speed of light...  and you are correct!  But that is only true in a VACUUM.  In some other media, light slows down!  In air or water or ice, light slows down enough that you can have a charged particle move fast enough to move faster than light in that particular medium, and this is the light we detect with IceCube.  We detect the Cherenkov radiation generated by charged secondary particles created in neutrino matter interactions in the ice to do particle physics and astrophysics to better understand the universe around us... PHEW!

As I said, we can use neutrinos to explore the insides of stars where telescopes cannot see, but we can also use neutrinos to explore more fundamental particle physics.  As it turns out neutrinos are weird!  Neutrinos can actually change flavor from say an electron neutrino to a muon neutrino or a tau neutrino. While it may not sound like much, this is a very interesting phenomenon to particle physicists and tells us something about how the universe works!  IceCube is one of a handful of experiments that can actually measure these "oscillations".  There are also questions about dark matter that we are exploring. The interesting thing about dark matter is that there is far more dark matter in the universe than normal matter.  There is still so much we don't yet understand about dark matter, and since there is roughly 5 times more dark matter than normal matter in the universe, I personally feel it is a very important and interesting area of research.  On top of this there are several other research projects being done using the data collected here at the South Pole using the IceCube Neutrino Observatory.

So as a bit of a summary, we are doing some very interesting scientific research down here with the IceCube Neutrino Observatory. We participate in a diverse array of physics research using the data collected in one of the most isolated and extreme environments in the world located at the geographic South Pole using one of the largest scientific experiments ever constructed in over a gigaton of ice located between 1.5km and 2.5km deep in the clearest ice in the world!  I have glossed over a great number of details in this post, but I wanted to at least get an overview of what is going on.  Please feel free to ask questions in the comments, and I will do my best to answer them!

Thursday, February 09, 2017

More Mail and Getting ready for Winter at the South Pole!

Winter is quickly approaching for us here at the South Pole!  It is a very exciting time, with many changes starting to take place.  The last of the summer IceCube crew left last week, and over the next week and a half, more and more people will be leaving the station and heading home.  For those of us who are wintering, we are starting to get a little more excited as well. Though there is still much to be done before we shift into our winter routines.

I have had a hard time trying to work on my blog lately. Honestly, I kind of feel bad sitting around in my room while there are still so many people on station.  I want to be out hanging out with all the people who are about to leave.  Don't get me wrong, I really do enjoy spending time alone working on personal projects, but in a little over a week our population is going to go from around 150 to around 48, and I will be stuck with those same 48 faces for the next 9 months or so.  I am really excited for the winter to start, but I am trying to get as much last minute socializing in as I possibly can.  It's actually kind of funny.  Part of me is ready for all these summer people to leave so we can get our winter started, but part of me knows that I will miss the diversity of individuals on station.  That being said, we do have a great winter group, and I am definitely looking forward to hanging out with them more and getting to know them better over the winter.

All that aside, since I will be spending the winter here, I have several projects that I want to work on, and I have actually started to make a little progress on some of them.  One of them is actually this blog. I am hopeful that I will be able to post more frequently in the days ahead. I am also hoping to be able to read a ton while I am here.  I have several books that I have been trying to read for a while, but I haven't had the time or motivation to actually sit down and do it.  Part of that was due to school.  It is kind of interesting, I think.  Now that I am done with school, I actually have time to go back and learn some of the things that we didn't have time to cover very well while I was there, and I am really looking forward to it.  I actually picked up my violin for the first time in a while last week.  Suffice it to say I need a lot of practice.  Other than that, there are a handful of other things I would like to work on, but I think I'll save the details for a future post.

I also had an exciting day yesterday, as some mail arrived.  This is potential the last mail we will see for the next 9 months. Some of it I had been waiting on, but some of it was kind of unexpected.  I received three packages.  Two from my aunt Kandy and one from a friend of mine back in Huntsville, Tim.  There were tons of great things in all three boxes, and I am very thankful to both of you.  One interesting thing in Tim's box was a bunch of letters from some kids back in Huntsville from the Boys and Girls Club there.  They ask lots of interesting questions.  So over the next couple weeks, I will be putting together a video response and giving a quick tour around the station.  I will be sure to post the video for everyone who is interested to see.

This is a picture of my room with a new camera and fish-eye lens that I am playing with.

The visibility today is terrible!  I don't think we'll have any flights in today.... 

Some more gifts from Tim!  Those books will come in handy this winter.

The Boys and Girls Club in Huntsville, AL sent these letters and questions.  I'm putting together a video response... Stay tuned!

All this came from my Aunt Kandy!  Thank you so much, this will help satisfy those mid-winter cravings!

Friday, January 27, 2017

Breaking IceCube and Fixing ARA!

The past couple of weeks have been far busier than expected.  We had a new group of IceCube and ARA people come in to do work on the detector, and it turns out there was a ton to get done.  I recently started working on a more science post about IceCube and ARA, but I haven't had the time to get it cleaned up.  I hope I can get it posted in the next few days so that people have a better idea of the work and science being done down here.  Until then, I will try my best to explain some of what we were working on.

ARA is another neutrino detector that is in the process of being constructed down here.  It has many connections with IceCube, which means that it is also an experiment that I am also responsible for.  The big difference is that it looks for much higher energy particles than IceCube, so it is much more spread out.  One of the things I did last week was to pull around 3-5km of fiber optical cable from a couple of the existing ARA stations to the new station sites to be built next season.  At first, it was kind of fun getting out and working.   The weather was reasonably nice and warm, around -15F to -20F.  The sun was shining, and it was an opportunity to hang out with some fun and interesting people.  I will admit, though, by the time we were done, I was worn out!  We had to unroll this huge cable of wire as it is being pulled behind a forklift.  It doesn't sound quite so bad, but the spool was heavy and we had to spin out so the fiber didn't get damaged.  The other big problem is that we are at an altitude of almost 10,000ft walking through snow.  Thankfully, the snow wasn't too loose and was a least a little packed down.  But lets be honest, no matter how used to the cold I seem to have gotten over the past few months here, after spending a few hours at -20F.... I was feeling cold!  Actually, it was only my fingers, toes, and face.  That being said, I did get an epic ice beard going.  That might have made it all worth it!

In addition to that, we actually got a request to BREAK the IceCube detector!?!  Well, not really.  In reality we performed a stress test of the new software that was recently installed on site.  And how did we do this fun little experiment?  Back when the detector was being constructed, several of the sensors were built with LEDs, called flashers, that we use for calibration work.  Normally, we can turn on these flashers and use them to get a better idea of how the detector is functioning or even changing over time.  In fact we performed over 28 hours of flasher work this season to be used for calibration.  This time, however, we used them to crash everything!  We started by turning on one set of flashers at a time.  After a minute or so, another set of flashers was turned on... then another... and another.  Until finally, there were so many flashers running that the detector couldn't keep up with all the data and everything stopped working!  The sensors in our detector are so sensitive to light, that just flashing a few hundred LEDs can cause the system to crash.  Thankfully, this doesn't do permanent damage to the detector.  In fact, the entire plan was to get so many flashers running that the detector was forced to crash to get a better idea of the performance of the detector under some extreme conditions.  Overall, it actually turned out to be a bit of fun.  Many IceCubers up north got onto the chat and monitoring systems to watch how everything went down.  We had a small group in the lab here at the pole, and the only thing missing was the popcorn!

Overall, things are going well here.  Obviously, I am a little behind on posts.  I have a few nice blog posts planned for the near future, if I can ever get them all typed up.   I am going to give some background on the science here, and I even want to talk about some of the "difficulties" of living at the South Pole.  On a little bit of a side note, I have also been playing on the ham radio down here.   I am going try to get some information about that in a post here soon as well.  It is really fun being able to communicate to the North using nothing be radio waves from the South Pole all way up to the United States!  If there is anything else that people are interested in, I am hoping I can try to cover it soon.  After the station closes in a few weeks,  things should actually really finally slow down here!

 At some point over the past couple of weeks, I actually made it out to another experiment, the South Pole Telescope, for a tour.

We took turns unrolling the fiber as we walked a few km behind a forklift.  It was actually way more work than it looks!

In the process of pulling cable, I actually developed this epic ice beard!  Yay science!