iceman's South Pole Page

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Winter - 2014

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Picture of the Week

Going South

Last Flight

Sunset & Twilight

Yuri's Night

Auroras 2014

Taking pictures at -70°C

November 2014


I'm a bit behind with some updates, but the last weeks were very busy. The first Hercs arrived on the Nov 6 and since then the winter-overs vanished very quickly and the station population already came close to the max in a couple of days. A few days before the Bassler came in with 6 folks and a special hot water drill to fix the rodwell, and for the last week we are back on it :)
I'm getting ready to leave in a few days, my stuff is all packed up, some in the mail, some stored for next season.

If I find some time in the next few days I will post some more

You will find all my new movies

October 2014


Oktoberfest today :) every year I'm down here we have an Oktoberfest, with BIG pretzels, the galley decorated like a beer hall etc.
Last Sunday we lost our rodwell - our under ice cavity where we get our water from, warm water is pumped down into the ice and pumped back up, reheated with excess heat from the generator and back down into the ice. This way you end up with a underground bowl with a lake in the ice from which we get our water. But the pump quit and got stuck on the way up. Now we had to convert to an inefficient snow melter on the surface, one of the operators has to scoop up some snow away from the station and dump it into the snow melter, quite inefficient system, at least what we have and it is quite amazing how little redundancy there is, but that is another story... But now our 2 times 2 minute showers seem like a luxury from the past, running out of fresh cloth as well.

Another one bites the dust....

OK now here is an update on the BICEP2 data, Planck published their data and what it comes down to is: BICEP2 results could all be explained by dust (so not the primordial B-mode polarizations after all), but I emphasize COULD because there are quite large error bars in the Planck data and there are some uncertainties as well extrapolating from their 353GHz data down to BICEP2's 150GHz. So it's not over yet but by far doesn't look as good as in March, future experiments and more data have to show.
Both groups are working together on further analysis of the data now and more papers will follow.

the actual paper from ESA's Planck collaboration
and here is a bit of lighter reading Dust to dust - Sky & Telescope
Dust to dust - The Economist

September 2014


Equinox and the sun is above the horizon again. On Saturday we had our sunrise dinner, which was nice and a lot of fun. Now the sun is above the horizon again until March. We even had some nice days again and could see the early reflections of the sun.


Today we took our winter-over picture, it was around -70°C (below -90°F) so quite chilly and we had to expose our faces and hold our breath to clear the exhale. I took about 100 pictures in continues mode, but there was only one were there were no "clouds" in front of someones face and everybody had their eyes open. It's just not so easy at these temperatures.


We are already in civil twilight, that means the sun is less than 6° below the horizon and today we had beautiful full moon setting, the last one for this year. Only a few of the brightest stars are visible, even the twilight lasts for several weeks, it always amazes me how fast is goes in the last few weeks, I guess after months of darkness the change is still significant.
As for auroras that was probably one of the worst years I experienced down here, some due to all the bad weather until July, but the amount and displays of the auroras were not just as good as in past years, that doesn't mean we didn't had any auroras, we still get some, but just looking at the amount of pictures I took is a good indicator.

And here is another movie I came around to do:

August 2014


Uups, I guess I was a bit slack with the updates more to come in the next days.
Had some very decent weather for nearly a months, no high winds, no drifting and cold temperatures, still auroras were lame :(
Earlier that months we had the 48-hour film festival, with 48h notice you will get several elements, items, phrase that has to be in the movie, you got 48h time to produce the movie and then they are sent out to all the other participating Antarctic Stations and we watch them and vote for the best films, there are always a few movies that are awesome. There is also an open category which can be anything, I sent in the aurora movie below and the following movie from the sunset.

South Pole entry to the 48h movie festival.


We entered astronomical twilight and before the moon came up a week ago the glow of the sun was still very faint, but obvious even to the naked eye (see the picture below). I also updated the aurora pictures for the last 2 months. They definitely can do better and the displays especially from July were very poor :(, but we got a couple of more weeks and August is normally always good, so now we just have to wait for the moon to set in about a week.

July 2014


A few more days of clear weather and temperatures around -70°C. In the last few days I took quite a few long timelapses, i.e. the camera is outside in a heated box to allow continues picture taking for up to 30h. For normal aurora pictures, it is ok to use the bare camera and it will last about 20 min before it gets to cold and the battery stops working. For the long timelapses it is a different story.

check out the latest video


Finally some long stretches of good weather and clear skies, therefore also the temperatures dropped and two nights ago we had the lowest temperature of the winter and quite a few people joined the infamous 300club (see previous years).

We fixed an old tracking mount from an amateur telescope and I had a heated box out for a few days making use of the nice night sky and few auroras - yes the auroras are very lame for the last weeks... hopefully they will get a bit better once we move into August and we are getting closer to equinox.


Weltmeister :) good game, and congratulations :) we had satellite for the second half but very slow and the last minute was about 8min long down here, so I was probably the last one on the planet who followed the game "live" to know the result ;)


Had nearly a whole week with nice weather and temperature dropped below -70°C, but we haven't reached -100F (-73.4°C) this year yet. But the clear days had very little auroras, which was at least nice for some milky way shots. Now it's windy and misty again, but the moon is up anyway so we don't miss too much.

June 2014


Great midwinter dinner again last night, a big thanks to the galley stuff. Below is a picture of all the midwinter greetings and invitations from other stations and governments.

Soccer World Cup started :) I actually never was a big soccer fan and I don't like the Bundesliga, since the club with the most money buys the best players and normally wins, but with national teams it is different and 2006 the World Cup in Germany caught me as well as so many, even I was down here. But time to make a new picture with the flag at the Pole.


Another week until midwinter, the only true Antarctic holiday, since we celebrate the solstice, the middle of the winter, and that is the same for any station in Antarctica, whereas sunset and sunrise are different for any station. For us at the Pole it means 3 months since sunset and 3 months until sunrise - the longest night on Earth.
We will invite all the other stations to join us for the celebrations and vice versa, since everybody knows nobody will come.

Here is good article about the BICEP2 result controversy.


While writing the last entry, we already moved into June, time is flying again, only 3 weeks until midwinter.

I finally managed to upload some of my aurora movies and long timelapse to vimeo in good quality for everybody to enjoy:
iceman's South Pole videos

May 2014


You might heard about the controversy going on with the BICEP2 discovery, if it really are primordial gravitational waves or just dust from the fore ground. Well these discussion will go on for a while. There will be more light shed into this a) once the Planck collaboration will release their data and b) SPUD/Keck will have enough 100GHz data. BICEP2 and SPUD until last year only had 150GHz receivers, BICEP1 was 100GHz but quite a bit smaller and SPUD will surpass the data quality of 3 years BICEP1 sometimes during this winter only after a few months.
I'm not involved with data analysis, my main job is to get the data ;) but as far as I know there are different models for the dust in our own galaxy that could yield to B-mode polarization, but none of the models really fit the BICEP data, i.e. BICEP2 data saw something else. Having said that, some of the models or data for the dust are quite sketchy and Planck hasn't released it's raw data yet. Just looking with one frequency you can't tell where the signal is coming from, looking with different ones you can determine more about the origin of the radiation. So the BICEP2 discovery responds well with the current models and data for dust, but these models can change with more data being released. So it will make the SPUD data, especially from this year so much more important.
You can read more about the current discussion in a recent paper : Toward an Understanding of Foreground Emission in the Bicep2 Region


Finally we had a whole week of good weather, temperatures were several days below -70°C, also some nice auroras today :). But now it's becoming cloudy again and temperatures went up by 15°C in a few hours. Time is flying again, midwinter is only less than a months away, but part of the reason is that I'm busy working on the telescope and on my little projects.
We had a major He leak in one of the lines this week, all the He lines, going up to the receivers, have to go through a cable wrap, that enables the telescope to rotate for 400° in Azimuth. So there is definitely a lot of stress on these lines getting bend back and forth and being under pressure of 20bar. Last summer all lines were replaced with new ones and so far all was good, but suddenly we were losing pressure with close to 1 bar/h. Investigating the line showed some black powder on top of the line below, so something catastrophic happened to that line, it is still like a pepper shaker :). Switched over to a spare line and we will pull out the line next week to cut it open and maybe find out more what was going on. Otherwise the telescope is very well behaving at the moment - knock on wood ;)
Some of my own projects is sandblasting glasses, i.e. you cover it with tape, then cut out what you want on it with a scalpel and then sandblast it :), or making a camera slider for time lapse photography and many more little projects - never gets boring :)

Picture of the az cable wrap, that allows the telescope to travel 400° without ripping the lines or cables off


Bad weather again, so no pictures, but to take pictures here, especially in the dark is not as easy. The tripods have to be taken apart and all the lubrication has to be replaced with extreme low temperature grease. Otherwise your tripod will just freeze up like you put super glue into all moving parts ;).
This year I got the most cameras I ever had down here, because one was lost in the mail and I wasn't sure if I ever made it down here, no time to find out in February before closing so I brought an extra spare. Which is now owned by a fellow winter-over who's camera broke a week ago - always good to have spares :)
For aurora pictures the camera will last about 15 to 20 min until the battery is flat in the cold. For longer time lapse I build several insulated and heated boxes, some run of 110V others with hot water bottles.

Here are some pictures of my camera equipment this year, removing grease and regreasing tripods and a heated box in place on the top of the ground shield to take a 24h time lapse.


We had some sporadic clear skies but mostly the weather is total crap. The last 5 days the temperatures were about -40°C and it only gets so warm if it is windy and overcasted. Lots of blowing snow and drifting.
We had a few auroras end of April, but nothing spectacular yet, and the few good ones we had were in a misty sky, but there is room for improvement.

April 2014


It was so clear - not the weather but that the weather would be crap during the lunar eclipse yesterday. Again one down the drain, blowing snow, high winds, but heat wave only about -40°C.


Last night was Yuri's Night, some change from the normal work cloth :).

Since sunset the weather is with very few exceptions pretty crappy, high winds and blowing snow, lot's of snow drifting. Some of the drifts are already as bad as they are normally in August, also to the fact that they pretty much neglected all the out buildings last summer and removed only very little snow. But you can't ignore it away and now we have to pay for it.
Tuesday we should have a lunar eclipse but it doesn't look good at all, which proofs again that astronomers can give the best long term weather forecasts, if there is something interesting in the sky, the weather will be shitty for sure :(.

But here are some pictures at the end of the few periods were the weather was actually quite nice in the last few weeks.


Haven't posted the pictures of sunset yet.

March 2014


Yesterday Nicholas, one of the SPT winter-overs and I gave a presentation to the station crew about the BICEP2 findings and what it means. It was an exciting week to follow all the media coverage - well as good as possible, haven't seen the press conferences yet, with our internet speed I might be able to download it in a few weeks ;)
But here are some more good articles or check out this comic done by one of the BICEP2 grad students.

Here are some more links to good articles:

Sterne und Weltraum: Urknall: Erste direkte Belege für kosmische Inflation
Gravitationswellen-Nachweis: "Wir haben hier etwas Großes"
Eine Botschaft vom Urknall: Die erste direkte Beobachtung der kosmischen Inflation!
First Direct Evidence of Cosmic Inflation
How the Biggest Scientific Discovery of the Year Was Kept a Secret
Good Morning, Inflation! Hello, Multiverse!
Primordial gravitational wave discovery heralds 'whole new era' in physics



the results of BICEP2 which is SPUD's sister telescope and was operational from Jan 2010 to Dec 2012 has published ground breaking results with a cross check with the current SPUD (Keck) data. Here are the two main papers.

and that probably answers quite a few questions very well :)

we are all over the news it is so exiting to be part of such an awesome discovery :)

here are some German articles:

Urknall-Gravitationswellen: Physiker entdecken Urbeben des Universums
Der Geburtsschrei des Universums erreicht die Erde
Eine Botschaft vom Urknall: Die erste direkte Beobachtung der kosmischen Inflation!
Spuren des Urknalls entdeckt
US-Wissenschaftler entdecken offenbar Echo des Urknalls
Gravitationswellen des Urknalls nachgewiesen

and here are some English ones:

Detection of Waves in Space Buttresses Landmark Theory of Big Bang#
A New Cosmic Discovery Could Be The Closest We’ve Come to the Beginning of Time
Gravity Waves from Big Bang Detected
Cosmic inflation: 'Spectacular' discovery hailed


Top News !! Tomorrow will be an announcement about data from our sister telescope BICEP2 and some SPUD data. There is still a lot of secrecy about it but it will be big big news, if we found the polarization imprint in the CMB that would be for cosmology, what was finding the Higgs particle for particle physics. We will be all tuned in tomorrow and will follow the press conference, more updates as things will develop tomorrow.

Heading out to work at 0300 with the sun only a few degrees above the horizon, had some beautiful days in the past weeks.


With the help from fellow winter-overs we took down the big calibration mirror yesterday and today Matt our machinist and I mounted the fore baffles and the telescope is now ready for the first CMB observations. Of course these last two days with many hours outside, were the first this year, where the temperature dropped below -60° C.

The telescope ready for CMB and me installing a camera for a time lapse

Flag line going to the dark sector so we don't get lost during storms or bad visibility and flags on top of MAPO


March, the sun is getting low, only about 7° above the horizon. The "time of the long shadows is starting". Three weeks until sunset.
Had some outfall problems the last few days, an ice blockage prevented more sewage going down the pipe, after our station savers got rid of the blockage some of us "had" to take long hot showers to have enough flow of hot water to clear out the pipe, a nice change form the 2 times 2 minute showers per week we normally have.

February 2014


The last plane left today, one day earlier as originally planned and it was only one plane, normally we get still a few on the last day with some more freshies - fresh fruits and vegetables. This year we only got about 1/3 of the amount from last year, which is too bad, but we will manage.
So the last 28 summer folks left today. Every year the last Herc would make a low flyby over the station and "wave" with it's wings, a nice goodbye to the people on the ground, who gonna spend the winter here and won't see another plane until late October, most likely until early November. But not this time, they just took off and all of us were waiting for the flyby, but nothing - LAMEST aircrew ever!!


The last two SPUD people left today, the people that were here over the summer did a great job, upgrading the telescope and getting the telescope ready for another year of CMB (Cosmic Microwave Background) observations. We finished some last minute stuff this morning and here is a picture the telescope windows without the cover on.

The only thing when you get back here after the summer our Lab is always a mess and it takes me a few weeks to get all the stuff sorted put away and cleaned up ;)


Arriving in Christchurch, NZ on Feb 1st, we were supposed to fly South to McMurdo on Monday Feb 3, but the flight got delayed and then canceled, if it really was the weather or the screening of super bowl, I will not judge, but it was a gorgeous summer day in CHC, so absolutely no complains :)
The ice runway in McMurdo is in a very bad condition, very soft and melt water puddles, so instead of a C-17 or an Airbus, it was back to the ski equipped LC-130. But we had a got tailwind and made the distance in only 7.5h. McMurdo has a lot of open water, more I have seen in the past 10 years.
After a short night we left early the next morning for Pole and got here on Feb 5 around lunchtime - back "home" for another winter.

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