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







2 comments:

Don Quixote said...

You didn't mention the part where you've spent the entire winter hiding in your berthing...

James Casey said...

Pfffttt, I just get out and wonder around when everyone else is asleep!