Sunday, September 24, 2017

Sunrise at the South Pole!

It has been way too long since my last post. Part of the reason is that I have been waiting on some media get get posted online. Last month, I was invited to remotely participate in a radio program (Inside the Black Box) on WREK radio, the Georgia Tech radio station. I spent some time talking about the science I am a part of down here at the South Pole and then I spent some time talking about life here.  I was hoping that the audio from the program would be posted soon, but unfortunately, it still isn't up. As soon as it gets posted online, I will post a link, but in the mean time, I figured it was about time to give another update. To be completely honest and open, there is another reason I haven't posted. It turns out that being in such an isolated place as this does sometimes get to you a little bit. It is not necessarily a bad thing, but there have been more than a few days that I have felt like I was walking around in a haze with little to no motivation to do anything more than what was required. Don't get me wrong, I have tried to stay active in the community for the most part, and of course, Martin and I have kept the detector as our top priority, but really, I have watched more of The Simpsons in the past couple months than I really care to admit!  That being said, the past couple of months started out kinda slow, but now we are getting ready to open the station for summer, so things have started to get busy.  Not to mention there is an IceCube Collaboration meeting coming up, so there have been a few requests from the north for extra calibration data and work on the detector. The activity on station the past week or so is kind of helping jar me back into reality a bit.

In general, though, station life is still going well. There have been lots of activities to get involved in over the past couple of months. There was a wine class Martin and I participated in.  We did a programming class that I helped teach.  There was an eight-ball tournament and even a beer pong tournament. I didn't really participate in either of those, but several others did.  We have had several movie nights with new movies when we can get them and some classics for those interested in older movies, and everything in between. The biggest event lately has been sunrise. We have had several months of darkness and very recently, the sun started to rise above the horizon here.  We only get one sunset and one sunrise a year at the South Pole, but they last for days at a time! That being said one of the big events down here is the Sunrise Dinner. We all got together over this last weekend and had another big wonderful meal prepared by our amazing cooks on site.  Before the meal, they raffled off the flags that have sit around the ceremonial South Pole marker for the past year.  Earlier in the day they removed the old ones and put up new ones. Sadly, I didn't win one of the flags, but I am very happy for those who did.  Afterwards, a couple of us snuck out to have some sunrise cigars. It was a great night.

The sun starting to rise at the South Pole early last week!

One aspect of the sunrise that I will mention for you ham radio nerds is that now the propagation on 20m and 40m has greatly improved. During the long winter, I was able to make very few contacts.  In just a couple weeks now, I have made over 350 contacts with people from the north! One goal that I am trying to hit is to make over a thousand contacts starting two weeks ago before I leave the station. For all those other hams interested, I am generally on 20m at around 14.243 MHz when the band is open. If 20m is closed and 40m is open, I will hang around 7.178 MHz or 7.182 MHz. I am trying to get on the radio around sunset or sunrise stateside, mostly but not limited to the weekends. Oh, and I have spent a little time with the fine folks on the Reddit Ham Radio IRC channel answer lots of questions about the South Pole, so this is a shout out to them!

Now that we are so close to station opening, things have really started to get busy. There has been a ton of prep on the station itself including increased cleaning duties around station, for starters. But the really big thing is that most of us are getting ready to leave and eventually head home. For many of us, this means some kind of traveling. I've heard that some people have even started packing, but that is kinda funny to me as we still have over a month left! I personally have been working on my travel plans.  Right now, my plans are to spend a couple weeks in New Zealand, followed by travel to Australia, South East Asia, India, then hit Egypt, Morocco, and the Namibia area in Africa before actually getting home in mid February. It turns out, it will be about 3 months of travel, but this is an opportunity I can't pass up! I've already booked a dive trip in Australia and am looking into a camping trip in Namibia! I almost have all my flight plans in order, and over the next couple of weeks, I will be taking care of Visa issues.

So far I am still loving my time down here, but I am definitely ready for warmer conditions with grass and trees and oxygen (we're at around 10,000ft).  As I have said before many times, though.... I know I am going to miss this amazing place when I leave!

A photo from earlier this year showing the Ceremonial South Pole Marker and some of the flags that were passed out to winterover at the Sunrise Diner!

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