Friday, December 22, 2017

Traveling Australia

Sunset from our dive boat on the Great Barrier Reef!

After I got off the Ice, I think I needed to clear my head a bit. Being at the South Pole for a year can have a mental impact, but more than that, we had the delays getting out as I mentioned in the last post. That being said, now I have been traveling a bit, and I think I am going to try to blog a little more frequently. Of course I have said that many times, so we will see how things actually go. Also, I have updated the name of the blog. Originally, my intention was to focus a little more on science, but given that most of my posts have been about and will be about travel, I have changed it up a little for the time being, not that I am particularly thrilled with the title anyway, but it will do for now. Also as a side note... Photo album links at the bottom for those who want more pictures!

Starting out - Cairns

As I stated in my last post, I wasn't able to spend much time in New Zealand, due to my flight delays out of Antarctica. After we made it to New Zealand, I spent my time getting ready for the rest of my travel. The first stop, and the topic of this post, was Australia! I have been a scuba diver for number of years.  During grad school, however, my diving along with many of my other hobbies slowed way down. Right before I was offered the position at the South Pole, I decided that it was a good time to get back into it a bit. I went down to the rock quarry in Pelham, Alabama and did a quick refresher and got a few dives in.  I was gearing up for more diving over the next couple months, when I got the call about the job at the South Pole... So my diving stopped AGAIN! Though that was a small price to pay for the most amazing job in the world. While at the South Pole, I decided that I would have to go diving when I got back, and where better to dive than the Great Barrier Reef? So in my post-ice travel planning, the first stop became a dive trip in Australia. I talked to a few people and one company was recommended, Prodive. Actually, it was only thing I booked while in Antarctica, outside of my plane tickets. I didn't even start booking hotels anywhere until I got off the Ice.

So my first stop on my tour home was Cairns, Australia. I got in a few days before the dive so I could relax and wonder around the town a bit. I ended up hitting up a few pubs throughout that time, including an Irish pub that at one point had Sweet Home Alabama playing. I also decided to hit up the local aquarium before my dive. I'm glad I did! I got a few interesting pics while there, primarily for my nephew who was in a bit of a shark phase a while back.

A hammerhead shark I saw in the Cairns Aquarium

Getting ready for a dive on the Reef!
The dive trip itself was a 3-day 2-night live-aboard. That means, that I was picked up at my hotel on Monday morning and they took us to a boat that we lived on for the next couple days of diving. We ended up getting 11 dives in, including 2 night dives. Here is where I have to make a small confession. At the start of the trip, I had around 50 to 60 dives under my belt (if I remember correctly). I was even a certified rescue diver through SDI/TDI. That being said, all of my dives were in rock quarries up until this point. So my first ocean dives were on the Great Barrier Reef! I enjoy diving in quarries, espcially when they are the only nearby place to dive, but diving the Reef was amazing. There were even a few others on the boat who actually got their dive certifications on the trip.  That is an epic place to learn how to dive. One common question I have been asked about my dives so far is "did you see any sharks?" Yes, I saw sharks, but sadly, I didn't get any pictures of the ones we saw. Mostly, they were trying to get away from us! We saw several very interesting fish and
coral structures. We also saw a few turtles, as you can see below. It was an amazing experience.

A turtle we saw while diving

Everyone in Australia was getting ready for Christmas!

After the dive trip we went back to Cairns where I spent another couple days relaxing and planning. At this point, I actually had no idea where I was going next. I even had to extend my hotel an extra night so I could figure things out. I toyed with a few ideas, but then settled on a quick hop to Sydney and then Adelaide. Honestly, the biggest reason I wanted to go to Sydney was to see the Sydney Opera House. IceCube has some collaborators in Adelaide, so I figured I would show up and see if they were around. I figured between Cairns, Sydney, and Adelaide I'd get a little bit of varied Australian Experience.

The iconic bridge across from the Opera House... I think this is where they shoot off fireworks during new years!
Me with the Opera House in the background

Sydney was actually pretty nice. It is a much bigger city than I realized. I hit the ground running there. The truth is I am probably spending way too much money on some parts of travel, but since this is supposed to be an epic travel vacation, I figure I can live with it to some degree, but in order to mitigate the costs a bit, I decided not to spend to much time in Sydney since it was so expensive.  I was able to get a pretty nice tour of the Opera House early on my first full day in town. It turns out the Royal Botanical Gardens are right next to the Opera House, so I went there as well. It was a great time. Other than that I did a little exploring and hit up a couple local bars/pubs. It was a pretty laid back trip.

A view from the tour inside the Opera House

Another inside shot of the Opera House
An interesting bird I saw in the botanical gardens
A sundial in the botanical gardens


After Sydney, I flew off for a few days in Adelaide, which has a much smaller feel to it. I actually went to the mall there on one day since I had to get a few things. While I was there, I was able to meet up with a few of my IceCube friends Sally, Gary, and Ben. The truth is that ever since I heard IceCube had people down in Australia, I kinda wanted to visit. Thankfully, they were actually in town when I got there! I probably should have checked ahead of time, but where is the fun in that? It was really great to see them and hang out with them for a couple of evenings. Another surprise along those lines was meeting up with a fellow winterover Rick. He and his girlfriend happened to be passing through Adelaide on their way from Darwin down to Sydney. I was able to hang out with them and have a couple drinks as they passed through town. That was great and totally unexpected!

I was told these were pretty iconic for Adelaide
Another Adelaide Icon
Sunset on the beach with Gary and Sally

While I was at the South Pole, a couple of guys there gave a wine class that I partcipated in, and one of the regions they actually mentioned was called the Barossa Valley near Adelaide. So, one day while I was there I joined a tour of the Barossa Valley that included a couple of wine tastings including one at the Seppeltsfield winery and the Wolf Blass winery. The truth is, I still don't know much about wine and am not very sophisticated in respect to wine, but it was a fun time. At Seppeltsfield they had a port (which I think they call a tawny for legal reasons since port has to come from Portugal?) that was aged 100 years. They didn't let us taste that one, but I did get a picture of the bottle of ~$2000 AUD port.

This was NOT on the tasting menu... around $2000 AUD for that bottle!

But they let us take a picture with it, and I was very careful not to drop it!

Me at the Wolf Blass Winery

On the last part of the tour we visited Hahndorf which is one of the oldest German settlements in the area if I remember correctly. It was ok... nothing spectacular. On the way back, however, the bus driver told us to keep our eyes open in the top of trees on the side of the road as there might be Koalas up there. One lady with a sharp eye spotted one. The bus driver actually pulled over, and we all got out of the bus to look and take pictures. It was actually pretty awesome.

For Martin! (kind of an inside joke)
Getting ready for Christmas!
Overall, it was a pretty amazing trip in Australia. There were a few things I didn't get to do, but due to the way I am traveling, I am a little limited on time in many of the places I am visiting. I also have the problem that my drivers license expired while I was in Antarctica, so I can't exactly rent a car right now! That being said, I don't really have any regrets about my time there. Hopefully, one day, I will make another trip down under and experience even more of such an amazing country!

And as promised... here are the links to the full albums!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

397 Days in Antarctica

The IceCube Lab in the Sunset

I have been thinking about this last South Pole post for a couple weeks. Part of the reason it has taken so long is that I needed to clear my head a bit. Also, as you'll see below, the last couple weeks were a bit of a challenge, and I wasn't quite ready to post on it. In all honesty, I don't really know what I want to say, so I'll start with some simple facts and go from there. If I am not mistaken, I arrived in Antarctica on October 27, 2016. I spent a few days at McMurdo before heading off and arriving at the South Pole on November 2, 2016.  I then spent the next 385 days at the South Pole, leaving on November 22, 2017. I then spent another week in McMurdo before finally arriving back in Christchurch early on November 28, 2017. I spent almost 397 full days in Antarctica.  Now to answer a couple of the more common questions I have received after returning to the real world:

1.) How was it?

Honestly, I loved my time at the South Pole.  It was one of the greatest adventures of my life, and probably one of the best years of my life. Yes, there were times when it didn't feel very adventurous, and there were challenges here and there, but overall, it was an amazing time.

2.) Would you do it again/go back?

Yes. The problem is that it may not line up very well with my future career, but if given the opportunity, I would return in a heartbeat.

That being said, by the time I left it was time to go. While I loved my year down there, the last few weeks were very difficult, and probably not for the reasons most people would suspect. As it turns out, there is one drawback to being a scientist at the South Pole: we don't leave as early as the rest of the crew. I spent a year in one of the most isolated places in the world with very few people. In fact, for 8.5 months, there were only 46 of us.  No one in or out.  No mail. No planes. Limited contact with the outside world over some pretty poor internet. We kind of became like a family.  Then, we opened the station at the end of the season, and a bunch of new people came in. This wasn't so bad at first. The bad part was when most of my South Pole family left. Over the course of a few days, 38 of the 46 winterovers left the station, leaving 8 of us to train our replacements. The first big flight out was by far my hardest day there. A large group of 32 or so people left on that first big flight and the station was filled with probably over 70 to 80 new people.  I honestly didn't think it would hit me as hard as it did, but something about all my friends leaving and all the new people taking over the station was really difficult for me to process. So, I hunted down a few of the remaining winterovers to get away from the crowd of new people taking over. We basically hid for a while trying to get away from all the new people.

After a couple of days, we were all ready to go, and then the weather hit. We ended up stuck on station way longer than anticipated. Almost all of us had our travel plans very messed up.  I was supposed to stay for a couple weeks in New Zealand and travel there, but by the time I made it back, all of my time was gone, and it was off to Australia. I was one of the lucky ones. The others lost thousands of dollars in missed travel and experience they had scheduled.  It is one thing to plan for delays, but it is hard to anticipate over 2 weeks of delays.  Day after day, we saw more of our travel plans get ruined. On top of that, we finished with our work, so we literally had nothing to do but sit around and wait and continuously check the weather. Suffice it to say, we were grumpy and depressed, and there was quite a bit of drinking, and a few really terrible movies (for example mutant/zombie sheep attacking people in New Zealand... yeah it was that bad), to kill time.   Finally, there was a small break in the weather, and we made it out of the South Pole, but then we got stuck in McMurdo. I spent my second Thanksgiving in a row on the ice.  At this point 7 of the 8 of us still on the ice hid ourselves away and ate in our room.  I love South Pole, but I really don't like McMurdo.  We didn't know anyone there. We weren't supposed to still be there.  It was time to go, but we were stuck.

Finally, we made it out on a late flight from McMurdo to arrive in Christchurch very early in the morning. We were exhausted. I spent the next day and a half getting ready for my trip to Australia. I had one full day in Christchurch before my flight, and it was mostly spent running errands. I had to buy pants, mail some packages, and I even got a haircut. I did take a few long showers, but I didn't make it to the botanical gardens. Still, it was amazing to finally make it. Then one by one, the last of us started going our separate ways. It was a bittersweet time.

Overall, as I said before, it was one of the greatest years of my life. The last 2 or 3 weeks were really rough, but in the end, I guess it was worth it as I'd still go back. When I started grad school, I stumbled my way into doing research on the IceCube Neutrino Observatory down at the South Pole. At the time I started, I had no ambitions to go to the South Pole or anywhere else in Antarctica. Then the opportunity presented itself for the first time a few years ago for a short trip. Since that time, Antarctica as become more and more a part of my life.  For me, it was one of those places that you just fall in love with. Now after this last year, I can't imagine what my life would be like had I gone a different route. I'm still trying to figure out my next few steps, but in the mean time, I have already had some amazing travel up in Australia.  Maybe now that I have finally gotten this last post up, I can start posting more of my other travels for those who are interested.

Over 400 days of beard...

I feel human again!

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!

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Ham Radio at the South Pole!

As I think I have mentioned, I am involved in amateur or ham radio. My callsign is AI4LX for the those who are interested. It is a hobby I have been involved with for a little over a decade. So when I came to the South Pole for the first time in 2015, one thing I had to do was get on the ham radio down here and make a few contacts. It turns out, if you are operating from the North, it is hard to make contact with Antarctica in general as there are so few ham radio operators here.  So to be able to operate FROM Antarctica was an amazing experience.  While I was here the first time, I even organized a contact with the Georgia Tech Amateur Radio club, of which I was the president at the time. I literally made a radio contact directly from the South Pole to Atlanta, Georgia! A friend of mine back on campus, George KJ4JZY, facilitated the contact on their end. During the contact, I had some other scientists here on station at the South Pole jump on the radio, and I talked to some of the members of the GTARC back home. George was able to make an audio recording from his end, and I put together a small video you can find here.  All in all it was a ton of fun.

That being said, one thing that I really wanted to do if I ever came back to the South Pole was to organize a ham radio test on station. It is something that has been done a few times in the past, but as it turns out, it is not an easy thing to organize.  Nonetheless, when I found out I was going to be a winterover this year, I decided it would be something I have to figure out, and thankfully, I had around a year to work out the details.  After the station closed for winter, I started a ham radio class here for the other winterovers.  It is very similar to a class that I have taught back at Georgia Tech where we go through all the material for the technician license, and then offer the exam.  So that was my plan.  I decided to have the class on Sunday afternoons for a couple of months and then try to have the exam.  This sounds like a simple plan but there are a couple of problems.  First off, you are required to have at least 3 authorized VEs or volunteer examiners to administer the exam, and I was the only one on station authorized. Well, there turns out to be a work around! In the past, they have used something like Skype to do a video conference where the additional examiners are located in the North watching. I contacted Maria, AB1FM, from the ARRL (Amateur Radio Relay League) VEC (Volunteer Exam Coordinator) group and explained the situation, and sure enough she was excited and willing to work with me.  We started trying to organize things, but then near the end of the class we hit our next and biggest snag.  Our "fast" satellite connection which we needed for the video conference went down due to technical problems at the relay point in Christchurch, NZ.  So, you may think, "no problem", they should have all the resources to get it up and running before too long!"  Well, that is what we thought anyway. It turns out, not so much.  It took over two months before they were able to get the parts and get the satellite up.  This was two months with extra limited Internet here at the South Pole, not just for the ham radio exams, but for anything else we wanted to do on the Internet! That meant we had to postpone the exams.  After a couple months of waiting, they finally got our satellite connection working!  Now we were ready to go... except we had another small issue.  We had to deal with vacation schedules in the North. So there was another couple weeks of waiting, which actually wasn't that bad, as it gave a few members on station a little more time to prep for the exam.

Finally last week, everything came together, and with the help of the VEs at the ARRL, I was able to administer the ham radio exams at the South Pole! We had 11 people get their license.  Of those 11, 6 got their technician, 3 got their general, and 2 got their extra. One of the reasons I became an examiner was because I hoped that one day I would be able to administer the exam here at the South Pole, so this was a small dream come true. As I understand it, this was also the largest exam session ever given down here. Since we only have 46 people on station here for the winter and there are now 12 people licensed (including myself), over 1/4 of the station has their ham radio license!  Overall it was a great experience, though it did take a little bit of work and organization get everything to come together.  I can't thank Maria, AB1FM, and the others at the ARRL enough. Without their patience and help, this would definitely not have been possible.

I hope to do another ham radio post soon with more about the equipment here and some pics. So if you are interested in ham, stay tuned for more!

The South Pole Winter 2017 Ham Radio Class showing their callsigns! Photo Credit NSF/Martin Wolf

Saturday, July 22, 2017

The South Pole Winter Games

I put this post together about a week and a half ago, but things got a little busy, so I got a little distracted and am just now getting it up. Hopefully, it isn't too late to be interesting!

The South Pole is one of the most isolated places in the world... especially during the long winter season. I have talked some in the past about the things we do to keep ourselves occupied here. We read, play games, play musical instruments, study. and hang out in our free time. We have had a handful of classes on astronomy, ham radio, and even now a programming class. We celebrate holidays like back home, and even a few holidays that are unique to the South Pole or Antarctica in general. I say all that to say that last week, we had an amazing time here on station. It started on July 3rd with the opening of the South Pole Winter Games. Over the course of the week, there were all sorts of competitions and tournaments many members of the station competed in for actual medals.  Sure, the gold medal isn't really made of gold, but the medals were put together by our machinist on station, and etched with "SPWG" as a reminder of the challenges endured and overcome over this glorious week of competition!

There were many "traditional" types of games including:

  • Vertical Tower (Beer can) Sprint (Something like 80 steps at -70F in full cold weather gear)
  • Individual Sled Pull (From the geographic pole to the ceremonial.. 150 yards?)
  • Group Sled Pull (From the geographic pole to the ceremonial.. 150 yards?)
  • Treadmill 10k (one guy did this in full fire gear... I have no idea why)
  • Volleyball

A few less traditional games:

  • Ping Pong
  • Eight ball

And a few games that were a little more on the nerdy side of things:

  • Settler's of Catan
  • Supreme Commander
  • Rubick's Cube
  • Photography Contest (for pictures taken during the games)

Being the amazing athlete that I am... not, I only participated in volleyball and the Rubick's Cube competition. I only joined in volleyball as kind of a joke. The station physician's assistant and I decided to put together a team that would play just for fun and with absolutely no hope of winning. In all honesty, neither one of us really cared that much about it, and we figured we could find a third person for our team who was the same. Sadly for him, that person ended up being Martin. He was there when we formed the team, and I don't think he realized how little Catherine or I really cared about the game, but he wanted to join us. I think he would have done much better with a team that cared more, but he was a good sport, and I think all three of us had fun. I just want to caution you, if you see any supposed pictures of me in the tournament with pigtails and my shirt tied up over my belly, they are all fake.  Don't look at them. We don't need those kinds of fake pictures of me being absolutely ridiculous making their way around the interwebs! At any rate, the volleyball tournament went as I expected for us... we lost miserably, but we had some great fun during the game.

Most of the games took place throughout the week in evenings after the people on station finished with their daily work.  There were a few games on Sunday after the opening ceremonies and a few games on the last Sunday before the closing ceremony. In fact both of the competitions I participated in were on the last day. The volleyball tournament and the Rubick's Cube. As I said, we lost the volleyball tournament pretty bad.  The Rubick's Cube competition went much better. If you haven't figured it out, I am a bit of a nerd.  As a nerd, when I got on station last year, I thought to myself, "Now that I have some free time, what can I learn to do that would really impress the ladies?" The solution was obvious! It was time to learn the Rubick's Cube! I know, ladies, I just get more and more impressive with every passing day. Anyway, over the last several months, it has become a mindless thing I do with my hands just to pass time time when watching videos or watching the detector. I have a cube that I have solved over and over again.  So, when this competition was announced, I thought I might actually have a chance at a medal. Unfortunately, there is another guy on station who has been solving cubes much longer than I have, and he even taught me the first few steps on how to solve a Rubick's cube.  Suffice it to say that in general, he is faster than I am. That being said, sometimes you get lucky. On the last day of the games, right before the closing ceremonies, we had the Rubick's cube competition. I went first, convinced that I was in line for a silver medal. I took the cube, and got on the platform in front of about half the station and went to work as fast as I could. I ended up solving the cube in 1 minute and 3 seconds!  Not bad.  They then took the cube and mixed it up again, and handed it to Ryan, the sure favorite for gold. He stepped up on to the podium and quickly started to work the cube, but something happened! He made a mistake! It's not that uncommon to get a little distracted or to mix things up when trying to solve a Rubick's Cub; it just slows you down a bit, and he ended up falling just far enough behind that he finished in something like 1 minute 16 seconds! Somehow, things had come together, and now I was one of the lucky few to win a gold medal at the amazing South Pole Winter Games! A third person took the stand and I think had a time of a little over 10 minutes, but that is still pretty impressive to me given that a year ago I had no idea how to solve a Rubick's Cube at all.

After all the main competitions were over and we had passed out most of the medals, we finished with the photo contest. Applicants submitted a set of three photos. Adam ended up winning with a couple of amazing pictures and one that was truly glorious and magnificent, and I hope it never makes it to the Internet. I mean not because it was me looking and acting ridiculous or anything... Then the ceremony ended with the national anthem played on the electric guitar a la Jimi Hendrix. It turned out to be a really fun day.  Annnnnnd then there was an Acopian power supply failure out at the ICL and I had to go out and fix it.  You'd think that now that I am a South Pole Winter Games gold medal winner, I wouldn't have to deal with such trivial things, but alas, it is a harsh continent! So am I supposed to go to Disney World when I get home now?  Do they have special accommodations for gold medalists like me?

Below are a few pictures I was able to pull together. I hope you enjoy!

I won gold in the Rubik's Cube competition!

Here I am with my fancy new gold medal!

The medals before they were distributed

The IceCube Lab in the Moonlight!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

More Aurora and Night Sky Pics from the South Pole!

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I was going to try to get into a little night sky and aurora photography while down here at the South Pole. This was largely inspired by my friends and colleagues Martin and Robert who have done some amazing photography down here.  Well, really, it was inspired by them and my mom who kept bugging me to get my own pics.  In fairness it is nice to finally have a few of my own... So, I guess thanks Mom!  There are also a handful of others who are also taking some amazing pics, and hopefully in a future post I can link to some of their work as well.  In the mean time, I have put together a quick blog post with a few of my pics from a couple days ago. I went out to get a some photos of the Milky Way and the Large Magellanic Cloud, mostly because at the time it was finally clear and there weren't even any noticeable auroras out. I was actually talking to another person on station, Hunter who is another of our great photographers, and until recently he has been trying to get pictures of the Milky Way, but for him the aurora kept getting in the way!  I am a little less picky and don't mind the aurora, but thought I would take advantage of the clear skies to get in a few more traditional night sky shots.  It took me a few tries to really get the images I was trying to get, as you will see if you look at the full album linked to below.  Eventually, however, I got a few really good photos of the Milky Way and the Small and Large Magellanic Clouds.

As it turns out, however, you can't go very long without those "pesky" auroras showing back up down here! After taking a few of the more traditional pictures, I ended up getting a ton of aurora shots.  It was actually surprising how bright some of the aurora were after it had been so clear! They were also very dynamic, so I was able to get a ton of different shots all within a relatively short amount of time. I am still experimenting with the photography so that is why some pictures are brighter than others.  I also don't do any post-editing which could bring out some of the colors a little better. I might do this in the future, but for now, the pictures are a little more raw.

The photos below are a small selection of the full set with a little bit of commentary.  The full album is located at

The Milky Way with the Large Magellanic Cloud in the upper left corner!

The Large Magellanic Cloud (center-ish) and the Small Magellanic Cloud (upper-left-ish).

Me, auroras, and the Milky Way!

I really like the structure of this one.

This one looks like a bird to me... maybe a phoenix!

Aurora under the Milky way!

The flag line leading to the dark sector is lit up with auroras!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Midwinter at the South Pole

First, let me apologize for my lack of posts lately. Over the past couple of weeks, I have tried a few times to put together a new blog post.  Unfortunately, I have had a bit of writers block. The truth is life here on station has mostly become rather routine.  There are a few things that happen here or there to stir things up, but for the most part, we live our lives just like we would back home. We get up. We do whatever work we have to do for the day, and then we find some form of entertainment to keep us occupied for the rest of the time. It is pretty normal, really, aside from the fact that there are only 46 of us living and working together in one of the most remote and isolated environments in the world, with some of the most spectacular views of the night sky I have ever seen... but still... It's totally normal.

That being said, every so often, there is a big event that breaks the monotony.  In fact, We just celebrated a major milestone. This last weekend, we celebrated Midwinter. I suppose it is not that unique of an event in some senses. I am sure there are a handful of people and places that celebrate this time of year, but here we treat it like a proper holiday. We have a special dinner where almost everyone on station helps out with the meal and preparation.  We come together to party and socialize and just have a good time. It also marks the last major event before sunrise.  We are now at the halfway point of our long dark winter.  In a few months, the sun will start to rise again, and we will start preparing for our trips home, wherever that will be.  Many of us are planning on traveling a bit before we go back to whatever could be considered our normal lives. It is an exciting time, but it also means that our time together will be coming to an end soon. We will be leaving this amazing place that has been a home to us for the past several months and moving on to the next part of our lives. We will be re-entering a world that has happily gone on without us for some time. We will be strangers trying to fit back into an old mold we long abandoned, or at least it feels that way. Soon, the night will move to dawn and then full day light, and we will no longer see the auroras and the stars that have often inspired us.  Leaving this place will be a major change.  To some it will be more welcome than others, but I think for most of us it will be at least a little bittersweet.

This weekend for Midwinter, we had a ton going on. It started on Saturday with Martin and I doing our dishpit duty and then was followed by our weekly house mouse responsibilities where we had to clean up in the gym.  After that we had an all hands meeting where everyone on station came together to take a Midwinter group photo. Almost all of the stations in Antarctica take one of these pictures and pass them around to each other for a Midwinter celebration greeting.  We did ours in the gym and had a bit of a theme.  We almost all either dressed up in our work outfits or had something to represent the work we do down here.  A few people wore some sports memorabilia or something else to represent what is important to them. Martin and I wore our IceCube hats and stood next to one of our display DOMs. It turned out to be a pretty good picture.  Later in the evening, there was a traditional viewing of The Shining.  Sadly, I missed this because my sleep schedule is all sorts of messed up.  I had to stay up for something like 21 hours just to make it to the group picture, so I slept through The Shining. The next day was also quite busy.  I woke early, since I went to bed so early, and then had a breakfast of leftovers followed by a shower. As I have said, we only get two showers a week, so this was a treat.  Later we had our Midwinter brunch. Then there was an epic facial hair contest where many great beards and mustaches were presented.  Unfortunately , I didn't win, but I came very close.  After that, I volunteered to spend more time in the dishpit while Martin volunteered to help clean up and organize for the dinner.

After my time in the dishpit, I decided to check outside to see what was happening with the auroras.  The past couple of weeks the moon has been up, so it has been harder to see the auroras, but now that the moon has set they have been much more noticeable. In fact,the auroras yesterday were too bright to pass up! So, I grabbed my camera and headed outside where it was roughly -98F with a wind chill of -140F, and got some amazing pictures... as quickly as I possibly could so I didn't have to stay too long out in the cold! Then a couple hours later, dinner started with socializing, cocktails, and appetizers.  A few of the guys got together and made us some old fashioneds with the only bitters that happened to be on station.  They turned out great!  It so happened that while we were socializing before dinner, the temperature finally dropped ever so briefly below -100F for the first time this season.  Everyone was watching the monitors when it happened and most were fairly excited. Finally, we had an amazing dinner that was put together by our amazing galley staff. After all that, there was a murder mystery game that many people played, but I was again so tired and full, I went to my room and passed out.

Overall, the past couple of days have been a ton of fun. Sadly, I didn't get the chance to participate in every activity, but I did get involved enough to have a really good time.  Not to mention, I got some decent aurora pictures.  I am still really enjoying my time down here, and I am looking forward to my last few months here.

Below, I have selected a few pictures from the past couple of days. For more pictures, check out the full album in links below.