Sept. 30th – Day 272 on Ice

Weather: Cold, clear and calm! Beautiful sunshine and low winds and cold temps around -90F.

The low winds have made running and walking outside very attractive these past couple days, so I’ve decided to go out along all the visibility markers and remove the snow from them. These are basically just giant plywood boards which are painted black and spaced every 1km, or 1mile for 3-5km depending.

Yesterday I spend 1.5 hours running down one of the lines (only about 7 miles round trip — but running over sastrugi is pretty tiring).

South Pole from the furthest SW visibility marker, approximately 5 km from station.
After my 1.5hr run down the vis line, -90F. The white on my nose is tape to help reduce the chance of frostbite.

Today I took 3 hours and walked the long flag line down the runway (which is about 5 miles to the furthest marker).

After my ~10 mile, 3hr walk down the vis line past the end of the runway. I have 2 balaclavas on, and the one underneath began freezing as well, so you can see the frozen pinched shape as I was trying to pull it away from my mouth and nose.

I can’t wait till I get back up North and don’t have to fear for frostbite everytime I go outside! But without wind, it’s pretty easy to keep warm for long periods of time.

It’s also nice to get outside on days like these because it can often be windy and cloudy which makes it hard to keep the face warm, and generally unpleasant to be outside.

I also have a dinky little video that I put together from one of my runs (though it’s way too cold to film much of anything) and also shows me taking off my outer layers after the run — a good show of why layers are important!

Will upload here if it ever uploads to google drive :).

Sept. 26th – Day 268

Weather: Sunny, clear, cool. Temps near -85F, winds around 10knts.

Sun behind the South Pole Telescope and the Dark Sector. It’s nice to see the sun again!

The sun is now fully above the horizon and will not set again until March 21, 2021. Having the sun back for 24hrs/day is nice and makes it easier to stay up, but harder to go to sleep each day. I’ve been sleeping from like 5-11am in order to be up for the good satellite, DSCS.

I’ve finished the “South Pole Triple Crown” which was an exercise challenge that included climbing stairs (approximately the height of Mt. Evereset), running the distance from the South Pole to McMurdo station on the route that the overland traverse takes (850 ish miles) and lifting the amount of weight in cargo that the LC-130s bring to/from Pole each year (1.75 million lbs). So I’m thinking about training for endurance running now… which will likely mean I’ll lose all the gains from lifting and be scrawny again by the time I leave here :/.

Well that’s about it. Sun’s up, but everything remains the same. About 2 months until I am scheduled to leave here and head back North. Tomorrow is ‘community cook day’ and science/IT has lunch, which means I have to get up relatively early (compared to my 5-11am schedule)… We’re making ‘gourmet frozen burgers’ ! mmm! But then tonight is community cook day pizza, which always ends up with some unique and delicious pizzas!

Sept. 21st – Day 263 on Ice


A hint of the Sun behind the South Pole Telescope. The weather cleared up nicely for 2 days around our sunrise dinner.

The weather has been pretty crappy recently, with high winds, clouds and low visibility. It cleared up nicely for our Sunrise dinner on Saturday, which was a nice assortment of dishes from the original 12 signatories of the Antarctic Treaty.

Sun rising to the left, and a red Sun’s shadow to the right.

Today, the winds have reduced visibility so much that you can’t tell where the Sun even is (though in theory it should be halfway above the horizon right now).

We now have only about a month and a half before station open, so they have started grooming the runway! It’s strange to see it again. We also have to begin cleaning other berthing wings in case of need for quarantine during the summer. The first flight is scheduled to arrive November 4th, though I won’t be leaving until late November (for winter-over replacement).

One interesting work-related thing I can share is our Jupiter maps. We observe planets in order to understand our beam shape on the sky, and what kind of light leakage we (light from directions not exactly where the telescope is pointing). The interesting thing here, is that we can see some of Jupiter’s moons orbiting Jupiter! This actually makes the beam measurement more difficult, so it’s probably not great for us, but it’s neat to see anyway!

In the above plots I’ve masked out Jupiter so the moons are more obvious. The left map is from 09/07 and the right map from 09/20. You can see the moon on the left orbit behind Jupiter, while the right-most moon moves further out. The dark horizontal bands are just filtering artifacts from when I made these maps. The speckling you can see around Jupiter is the imperfect diffraction from our telescope optics.

Sept. 10th – Day 252 on Ice

Weather: Cold, calm and clear. Temperature near -100F, winds less than 5 knts!

The station. Pinks and oranges are now prevalent on clear days. The eyes adjust much quicker, and this photo is actually darker than what the eye sees, but pulls out the sunrise colors nicely.

Today, I decided I couldn’t waste the low winds and went for a run out to the polarization calibration source (something like 3km from the station… they moved it closer last year, but it used to be 5km from station). It was -97F while I was out on my run, but the low winds made it bearable… at least for the 30 or so minutes I was running.

Galley scroll right after my run, showing the temperature, wind and physiological altitude.
Me, returning from my run. So long as it isn’t windy, you can stay pretty warm while running… The problem with wind is the face !

Now that the sun is high enough to provide ample light I can start taking pictures outside again… the only problem now is that it’s so cold that having your hands outside of gloves, even for 30s is painful.

Dark Sector panorama from the observation deck. You can really see the shadow of the Earth in this pano, and the beautiful Sun getting closer to rising on the horizon.

September 8th – Day 250 on Ice

Weather: Warmer, around -65F with light winds and some clouds.

Today the winds were light enough for me to brave the cold for an outdoor run. Went about 3 miles before I was worried about frostbite on parts of my face and neck that were slightly exposed. Beautiful to see the sun start showing itself again, and really convenient for walking/running outside now that I can see things!

Panorama from the front of DSL. Though it still looks dark out, the eyes are amazingly able to adjust to make it appear quite bright outside!

Horizon shines with light behind the BICEP Array telescope. You can just barely see the Earth’s shadow beginning on the top right of the image.

This weekend was a 2 day weekend due to the Labor Day holiday. One of the big events was watching the Big Lebowski, and many people showed up in robes to drink white russians and watch the movie.

Some work related things: We began observing some planets (Saturn and Jupiter) in order to measure our telescope’s beam shape. This is important when calculating things like power spectra of the CMB because it tells you how light propagates from the sky to our detectors through our optical system. Although planet images with a 1 arcminute resolution camera (i.e. SPT) are not all that interesting (because the planets are smaller than one beam size), here is an over-exposed map of Saturn that we took a few days ago.

There are some dark stripes across the image because the filtering mask I used when map making was too small for the source. The structure you see there is not due to Saturn itself, but is due to optical effects of the telescope, lenses and detectors.

August 31 – Day 242 on Ice

Weather: Cold, windy, blowing snow and low vis. We got down to -70C a few days ago, and it has averaging around -63C for the past few days (that’s like -85 to -90F). Winds have been pretty high, so the windchill has been brutal.

We took our window covers on the station down today… you can see that in the live-feed cam (if the weather isn’t too bad). We could do this because the sensitive aurora cam on the roof has been turned off… unfortunately it’s still so dark out (and the windows are so tinted) that the windows effectively act as mirrors:

One of the galley windows. Nice and cover free…

Last weekend was my birthday, and we didn’t do anything special particularly for me, but the station did host an Iron Chef event. It was really fun to watch the 4 teams participate and cook. I was actually pretty surprised at the quality of food which they each made (I didn’t participate… no one would have wanted that!). The 5 ingredients to include were: corn, miso, cocoa powder, bacon and beets. I don’t actually know how Iron Chef works, but it was my understanding that they had to incorporate all of the ingredients into their dishes.

We now have 3 weeks until sunrise. Hard to believe summer is almost here! My work ethic has plummeted, but hopefully with the increasing sunlight, some life will be brought back into the station. I think it’s a pretty common thing, the lack of interest, depression, lethargy, caused by being down here. Being in the darkness and cold, cooped up in a building with these other people. We seemed to have moved from working and sports in the evenings, to watching tv shows and movies. Vegging out seems much more attractive than working on projects.

I find myself staring at my computer screen, trying to understand the code I’ve written and trying to figure out why something isn’t working. For example, today I spent about 3 hours trying to understand why my script wasn’t reading in data properly… it turns out I was telling it to look in the wrong directory. Things like that eat at me daily. Stupid mistakes, easy math that isn’t so easy anymore, tiredness all the time. Do I just slug down more coffee and get more irritable? or just remain tired and get more irritable? It’s a harsh continent 🙂

August 28th – Day 239 on Ice

Sun light on the horizon. SPT, DSL and MAPO silhouetted. Only 3 weeks till sunrise!

Although the Sun won’t rise for another 3 weeks, we can see signs of real-deal sunlight. Even some yellows and oranges in there too!

Even with the impending sunrise, temperatures are still cold. According to our meteorologist, we may have some of the coldest days of the year so far next week! It’s currently -60C (around -80F) with calm winds and thin, high altitude ice clouds.

Returning from rounds at DSL. Two balaclavas, a hat and big red… sometimes the wind just gets in no matter what!

August 20th – Day 231 on Ice

Weather: It was very cold and clear the past few days. Temperatures down near or below -90F and winds generally around 10knts, which makes for a cool -140F windchill.

A little timelapse of the Milky Way over the station… if you pay attention you’ll see why astronomers hate satellites! Even here at the South Pole, you can see lots and lots of satellites at any given time!

Team SPT winterover 2020! This photo was taken with a 20s exposure and Geoff flashed a white light quickly during it to brighten us up a bit. (I’m on the left.) Photo credit Geoff Chen

A panorama showing Milky Way and auroras over SPT and the station. You can see the Sun’s light on the horizon starting to show! Photo cred: Geoff Chen

Aaaaand here’s a photo from my own phone, looking at the horizon near the Sun from the dock of SPT.


August 15th – Day 226 on Ice

Weather: Clouds briefly rolled in and warmed things up to around -46C. We’re now cooling back down to around -60C. Winds are light, around 5-10knts.

I’ve gotten about 12 hours of sleep in the past 4 days because I’ve been getting up at 0230 each morning for a conference which starts at 0300, and for phone calls and other meetings (and, of course, just to use DSCS which is up from 1-6am now).

Tonight I’m flipping my schedule, attempting to stay up late (until maybe 0300 or so) and then sleeping until about 9 or 10am. I have meetings a 0730 some days of the week, so we’ll see how this goes. It also means I’ll have to skip breakfast, which is kind of a bummer.

Anyway, things have been going smooth here and we’re seeing more and more light on the horizon! Summer is coming!

I don’t know if I’ve uploaded this photo yet, so here it is: a photo of me greasing the telescope under auroras and the Milky Way. Wind chill was around -140F that day… photo cred Geoff Chen

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