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.