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5 December, 2002

5 December, 2002

Up early to snoop around. I got over to the pole in front of the dome. Well, BOTH poles, because there's an official one, more of a stake, and the ceremonial one with the mirror ball. Took the mandatory pictures, and more besides. Still feeling slow & stupid from the altitude, but had a tasty breakfast, did some email, ran into Bai, and we made plans to meet for lunch and go over to the SPASE (South Pole Air Shower Experiment) hut with my portable cosmic ray detector. Bai nearly insisted I go back to bed for a while. He was feeling pretty good on his second day, and had a very full agenda, so he did a lot of digging that afternoon. It took him 2 days to recover. So I took his advice and went to work on movies (yes) and have a nap (no, computer troubles).

I talked to Bill McAfee, the local Tech guy, and laid out my ambitious and insane kite aerial photography project (concerns about radio interference from my transmitter), and QuickTime streaming server projects. Not a problem! Very easy guy to talk to, and was very willing to help get it done.

Internet connection here is actually FASTER than McMurdo! At least when the satellites are up, which is somewhat less than 12 hours a day.

After lunch, Bai & I got a shuttle (Ford van) over to the Jamesway to pick up the cosmic ray detector, and walked the last quarter mile out to the SPASE Hut, an elevated structure on the edge of the civilized world that is the South Pole. If you walked past the SPASE hut, you could walk over a thousand miles of snow before you got to the coast. (and then what, you might ask?)

Along the way, we stopped at a 1,000 gallon tank that was installed by TEA Jason Petula last year. There are numerous questions about this tank that can only be answered by inspecting it. Did the ice freeze clear? That's important, because charged parcticles create faint light in the ice, and with air bubbles, that light won't be detected. Did the ice contract and expand and crack with the changing temperature? More than a meter of snow has drifted over it since last year. Bai's been digging it out, and has done a Herculean task (though more awaits us tomorrow).

The pole is really flat, and anything that sticks up collects drift around it. The bulldozers have been going 24/7 around the pole station, building drift walls from snow as high as a house.

Bai dug some more, and I installed my detector. Thank you, Hans, my electronics guru from the University of Washington! It works! Bai came back in,and we used the oscilloscope to look at the detector PMTs (photomultiplier tubes, the ubiquitous light sensing devices that lie at the heart of every cosmic ray project I've worked on). We discussed some experiments we could run using the detector, and headed over to MAPO, the Martin Pomerantz Polar Observatory, to look around.

Christian Speiring was there, and walked me through the current project: a somewhat tedious calibration of AMANDA's 600+ PMTs using a laser sent through fiber optic to trigger the PMT, and observing the timing of the return signal. When ICECUBE is installed, it will be be all digital, and this brute force approach will not be required. Phew!

There's about 10 other experiments in MAPO, and I'll try to describe them in more detail in upcoming journals. But you'll be interested to know that somebody from the Art Institute of Pittsburg designed a "snow bike," and sent it to the pole, and it was sitting outside MAPO, and Bai & I tried to ride it. It's geared incredibly low, so it's impossible to get going except by riding down a ramp. And then you have to pedal like an insane monkey. Back to the drawing board, folks.

Dinner, and career talk with Bai, and a peek at the greenhouse. Bai wintered over here one year ( the famous doctor medevac winter, actually), and he said the greenhouse was really important. That's pretty easy to believe.

-- Eric Muhs

From somewhere near the South Pole

December 2002

To see movies, quicktime vrs, sound files, panoramic pix : http://www.drachen.org/default.html

To read journals and see pix: ../tea_muhsfrontpage.html

Yours truly from the mirror ball used to mark the pole. Well, the fake pole, the one that, according to Bai, Canadians paid $25,000 apiece to fly into for 3 hours and get their pictures taken.

This is the marker for the real pole. A new one is made every year, and located January 1st. The ice is slowly moving....

A lovely view of the "fake" or "ceremonial" pole. This is right outside the entrance to the dome, and the flags are of the nations that are signatories of the Antarctic Treaty, which has preserved Antarctica as a research zone.

This is Bai Xinhua, my friend and colleague. He has been to the pole several times, including a winterover. He would often come to the greenhouse and site and read for a few hours during the 6 months of darkness. The most beautiful thing, he said, was the sky at night: the millions of stars, the aurora, but especially the moon. He was lost for words when trying to describe the quality of the moonlight on the snow. I can attest that the quality of sunlight here is unlike any place I've been. Bright like a welding torch.

This is a pole bike, made by the Art Institute of Pittsburg. Does it work ? Well, walking is easier...

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