Archive for August, 2008

Sun, Songs, and Almost -100°F

Wednesday, August 20th, 2008

Our local musicians decided it was time for another gig. With “Talk Like a Pirate Day” just around the corner they chose to have a bit of a pirate theme.

Pirate Theme

“Talk Like a Pirate Day” isn’t actually until September 19. In true pirate fashion somebody must have gotten confused but any excuse will do.

There was a three band lineup and I just missed the first one due to work commitments. On my way back from the dark sector I heard a lot of hooting and shouting. Some of the people that don’t get out much ventured onto the observation deck just outside the concert venue and for the first time saw the orange glow of the returning sun on the horizon. A welcome sight indeed.

The new formed Irish band “The Scroggin’ Wankers” had its much celebrated debut. Depressing or drunken Irish songs just hit the winter-over mood at this time of the year. Not sure why :-)


The Budget Crunch

Wednesday, August 20th, 2008

Well, the budget cuts in the Antarctic program have now gone further than just reducing the number of issued pairs of socks from five to two. Today, the National Science Foundation Office of Polar Programs issued a letter detailing the impact of the budget constraints on the 2008/2009 season. Operations will be cut back and a number of projects, science and construction, have been deferred. A number of IPY projects have also been limited in scope for the upcoming season.

The US Antarctic Program is not alone in its struggle. Nature reports on the impact of the increased operating costs on other national Antarctic programs. The German icebreaker Polarstern operates at a cost of $100,000 per day and costs have increased to the point that canceling the entire Arctic program next year is under consideration.

PLATO Gone Cold

Thursday, August 14th, 2008

After 204 days of continuous operation the PLATeau Observatory (PLATO) at DOME A has lost power. During the winter PLATO was powered by one of two German built diesel generators, which now have apparently failed due to an exhaust leak. They use Hatz 1B30 engines. Coincidently, the smaller version of the Hatz 1B40, the engine that has been used in one of my favorite motorcycles.

PLATO has a number of instruments for site testing for astronomical telescopes at the future Chinese Dome A Station location. They look at the sub-mm spectral region, atmospheric turbulence in the first few tens of meters above the surface, and cloud cover. This will hopefully lead to an even better site than South Pole for the next generation of sub-mm telescopes.

We had a similar site testing program, run by some of the same scientist, here at the South Pole. It was originally powered by a propane generator, which failed in 1997 and filled the whole building with propane and shut the observatory down. It was as much an actual site test as a test of a remote observatory. Later one of the propane tanks developed a leak on one of the LC-130, which caused a bit of excitement too. During my first winter at the Pole the observatory was run off Station power, but it again failed and was shut down sometime during the winter.

Scientist are hopeful that PLATO will be able to generate power through its solar panels once the sun rises high enough.