Saturday, January 14, 2017

A time of transition at the South Pole

The past week and half or so has been a bit of a time of transition.  Some of that is more internal, while much of it has been external. Internally, I feel myself getting more excited about the coming winter.  In particular, there have been a few times when I have been traveling between the station and the IceCube Lab where I work, and I will look around and see the vast snowy landscape and get so excited about the sunset.  Keep in mind that it is currently summer here, and the sun doesn't set in the summer.  But at the beginning of winter, there will be a long sunset.  It will actually last one to two weeks.  I can't even fathom how amazing that will be...  over a week long sunset in one of the most remote locations in the world.  Previous winterovers have talked to me about how they start to get ready for everyone to leave so they can get on with the winter.  Just as a reminder, there will be 40 to 50 of us here, alone, throughout the winter. I am not quite to the point where I want to kick all the summer people off the station and get on with the winter, but I can definitely see some of the appeal of it at this point.

Externally, there have been many changes as well.  While I have gotten somewhat used to the temperatures down here, it is starting to get a little chillier.  Today, it is -15F (-26C) with a windchill of -44F (-42C).  It is also a very windy day.  I have noticed that at -15F or so, I can get around outside with only a sweat shirt if there is no wind.  If the wind kicks in, I definitely need a few extra layers.  Additionally, we have had some personnel changes. My supervisor, Ralf, left a few days go.  Martin my colleague who will be wintering with me, has been gone for the past week on R&R.  This leaves me alone watching the detector.  Things haven't been bad so far.  There are a bunch of small things that have to be done, though.  I have had to do some routine work on our data archival system.  There was some work on the ARA experiment that I helped out on. Next week, I have to do some calibration and test runs, but hopefully Martin will be back for most of that. Additionally, we have had a bunch of new people on station to help out with IceCube and ARA.  I have been helping them get acclimated and get their projects started.

The last big thing we had this week was an open house out at the ICL (IceCube Lab).  We invited the members of the station to come out and hear about the science we do and to tour our facilities.  I really had a great time doing it.  I love science outreach, and I really enjoy talking about all the amazing science that IceCube is doing down here at the South Pole.  We are exploring the universe in a new way.  Just like Galileo first looked up to the heavens with the first telescope a few centuries ago, we are looking into the universe in a way that has never been done before.  We are trying to understand the most energetic astrophysical events ever seen by searching for the tiniest of particles we have ever detected.  Just like Galileo had no idea where his discoveries would lead, we are likewise just at the beginning of new form of exploration with no idea where our work will take us.  It is an exhilarating time and I am so thrilled to be one small part of it here down at the South Pole.
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