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Jan 08th – Day 53 at Pole

Well, if anyone is looking at the livefeed cams you might notice the weather is terrible. The marathon has been postponed 1 week.

Models predict a weather window starting Monday afternoon and lasting about 24 hours, so I will attempt my run then (so long as the winds stay low). Good news is that it should remain cloudy which means less sun exposure and warmer temperatures… It just might not be as “pretty”; which is fine by me 🙂

I’m super bummed the weather turned, but excited to get going! Hopefully Monday afternoon things clear! fingers crossed!

Jan 06th – Day 51 at Pole

Whew, it’s been a busy few weeks. We had New Years festivities here which were fun, as well as lots of work finishing up summer maintenance tasks on the telescope. We’re now getting ready to hold the 2022 South Pole Marathon (this Sunday, Jan 9th). Myself and one of the SPT winterovers have been busy designing and making the finishers medals. I will post pictures once we’ve completed them!

This year I am planning something slightly different from the normal marathon – a 24 hour endurance run! I am going to begin at 12am Sunday Jan 9th and go until 12am Monday Jan 10th (NZ time, of course). You will likely be able to watch me at the beginning (SPTR is up at various times between midnight and 6am here) as well as in the evening (4pm-9pm my time) on the live feed cameras —

I will also be joining in on the marathon, which starts at 0930, so I’ll have been running for 9.5 hours already at that point (hopefully around 40 miles or so). It will be a nice mid-run boost being with other people and having the energy of the marathon. This year’s course is pretty nice, and consists of four 6.55 mile loops. I think I will start out on the course loop (depending on the condition of the course), and might end up running back and forth between SPT and the station since the foot path is nicely packed down. I’ve got a bunch of snacks and extra clothes/jackets/balaclavas/ etc out at SPT , so I’m using that as my warmup shack/aid station with fans for drying clothes and a heatgun for melting ice! It’s about 1km from the station to SPT so it’s a nice way to keep track of my progress and it’s easy to duck out of the cold if needed.

I’ve tested my GPS watch by running one loop of the course (which was measured precisely by the South Pole Surveyor to be 6.55 miles) and I measured 6.57miles – so bang on!

Here’s my flyer for the run … edited from the marathon flyer. Oddly, I don’t think anyone else is participating.

Will post pictures and/or videos later once I get things set up and run. I’m excited! The weather has been super nice the past few days, and I’m all giddy to go. I hope it holds out until Monday!! Fingers crossed.

I’m also helping out with a lot of the logistics for the Marathon, so I need to get back to that! Snacks and beverages won’t provide themselves! And also prep for my day.. Saturday I will be busy preparing ; making lots of ramen packets, and coffee and gatorade and schlepping it all out to my aid station at SPT.

I should also mention that most of what I am doing is not condoned by station management or medical … because of course, why would it be?

Dec 26th – Day 46 at Pole

Happy Holidays!

We had a busy but productive week practicing for our Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) run in April. This requires installing mirrors onto the telescope to divert light from the primary dish into the EHT receiver, which rides along next to the SPT one. We also have to use an entirely different set of electronics to power and run the EHT receiver. But we managed to get things running and do some practice observations, even observing some sources used for pointing calibrations.

This past weekend was also our Christmas celebration (which consists of a wonderfully delicious dinner, and whatever type of party people feel like having). This year we had a nice “variety show” which ranged from freestyle frisbee, to a solo rendition of the movie Die Hard, to a 4 person band concert.

We also hosted the annual Race Around the World event which is a ~2.5 mile run which encompasses every longitude (i.e. goes through every time zone). I was the “course director”, I guess you could call it, and did some flagging of the course before-hand, which may have given me some advantage since there was virtually no contrast at the time of the race, so you couldn’t even see the ground in front of you. It was a pretty tough run, with all the bumps and drops, and soft/hard snow. But in the end I think it was a great event and lots of people ran or walked, or unicycled or skiid or crawled… yes we had one person crawl the entire thing!

aaaannd they’re off! Start of the race around the world… was pretty much off-road and we couldn’t see any contrast on the ground! I’m the one in the santa hat (and all black).
Entering the backyard. I’m out in front, and would remain here for the rest of the run… perhaps knowing the course helped a bit 🙂
On my way out to the Dark Sector, ceremonial pole and SPoT 2 in the background.
Running out to Dark Sector; tourist camp in the background.
Heading out towards Ice Cube, about 2/3 through the run.

I don’t have the photos from the finish, since the person taking pictures out there hasn’t uploaded them yet, but hopefully I can get those soon. I ended up taking first with a time of 19:55 … I think it was about 2.4 miles (according to my watch), so it wasn’t the fastest running I’ve ever done, but apparently good enough!

The race took place on Christmas morning, and afterwards the weather cleared up to perfectly sunny and calm and a warm -5F , but I think we actually got some snow that morning! A white Christmas after all.

Today, we played a little football. Ok, a lot of football.. About 2 hours worth! But the weather was nice (-5F ish and low winds is about as nice as it gets here!).

Huddle up! (I’m center-left)
Wasn’t even close… but it looks like it might be here 🙂

Sometimes we looked athletic! Other times, the slippery snow had other plans…

Here I am… going to make an awesome stop at the goal line (the shirt on the ground there).
The epic 2-hand touch … but maybe came in a little hot. Turns out tennis shoes on hard snow aint the best.
The aftermath.

All in all, it was a great time and most importantly no one was (seriously) injured!

After the football game today we just chilled out and watched Love Actually; an SPT holiday tradition. Now time for Science Sauna Sunday.

Hope everyone up north had a good and relaxing holiday!

Dec 19th – Day 39 at Pole

Weather has been extremely warm; we almost got to positive temperatures!! Temps now hovering around -18C (-0.4F)… The winds are rather high, though, with sustained 10 m/s winds (something like 20knts). According to our meteorologist we may even hit record warm temperatures over the next few days — nice for people, but not so nice for microwave telescopes.

We got an LC-130 plane in last week! First one in 2 years… which is a crazy thought. It brought some “emergency” food supplies to station as well as a bunch of SPT cargo. It was also some funny timing as the Air National Guard crew went to the ceremonial pole to take photos at the same time as some tourists that were here. Due to covid protocols they had to stay distanced, but it made for a funny picture of a queue for photos of the pole. Image that, coming to the South Pole and having to wait in line to see the pole!

Line for the ceremonial pole. A group of tourists are waiting for the air national guard crew who flew in the LC-130 to get their photos.

There was also a big station event this weekend — the 4th First Annual South Pole Head Weighing Competition. Oh yea. big deal. This is an event where people dunk their heads in a bucket of water and measure the displacement (the weight of the water). So it’s more a volume measurement than “weight” per se, but still. Head weighing. Who knew it could be so much fun. There is a competition to see who has the largest and smallest head, and also a team competition where teams of people attempt to guess their combined weights; and whoever gets the closest wins. I was way off… I guessed 8lbs and was somewhere around 9.8 lbs; which turned out to be extremely average. So no prizes for me.

We have a busy week coming up, with the arrival of our cargo including hard drives and motor oil for the telescope. We will also be doing some EHT test observations later in the week.

Next weekend is our Christmas celebration and the annual Race Around the World, which I’m helping to setup and will be running (2.5 mile course that goes around the geographic pole). Should be fun, and hopefully there will be people taking pictures that I can steal 🙂

Dec 12th – Day 32 at Pole

Weather has cleared up; winds have calmed down and sky has cleared up. Hope it keeps up like this!

Not much is new. We gave a couple tours of the science buildings to people who were leaving this past weekend/ tomorrow and to some of the folks who arrived on the traverse (SPOT 1).

Since SPOT came in, there is now a “road” connecting McMurdo and South Pole.. It also happens to be pretty well packed since they tow lots of heavy stuff. So perfect for running, except that it wasn’t as flat as I expected :/

Only 1000 miles to McMurdo. Some of this is at least runnable… but it is pretty bumpy and you have to keep moving to find the hard packed in areas.

I ran about 6 miles down the road. Unfortunately I was running with the wind on the way out, and so when I turned around I became pretty cold running into the wind on the way back.

Final turn before South Pole – about 5.5 miles from station (you can see station in the distance in the upper right).

And of course what run would be complete without an icey selfie?


Dec 7th – Day 27 at Pole

Weather : much windier, but still warm. Temps between -15 and -20 F, with winds steady around 15knts gusting to 26 (30mph).

Eclipse timelapse I took, showing the telescope setup we had for viewing the eclipse:

Eclipse timelapse (composite photo) from Aman Chokshi (SPT winterover) :

Timelapse of the partial (90%) eclipse over DSL. Photo credit Aman Chokshi

— also you should absolutely check out his instagram; just search his name and look for the unbelievable astro photos —

Also also, with high winds comes blowing snow and ice crystals which means … Sun dogs! and therefore mandatory Sun dog halo selfies!!

Unfortunately we are now in level yellow with the arrival of two planes in the past two days and don’t expect to go back to green for 6 more days. So masks and social distancing are required as much as possible in a small station.

I also ran 10 miles on the treadmill with a mask on this evening. blegh. was terrible. 0/10 do not recommend. I think I’ll prefer to suck it up and endure the 20knt winds and run outside. Frostbite > waterboarding.

Dec 5th – Day 25 at Pole

Lots of stuff going on. Where to begin.

Weather has been super nice; clear and relatively cold for this time of year (around -30F).

I got my COVID booster shot a few days ago – that sucked. Felt just as bad as my 2nd Pfizer shot, but hey now I’m boosted.

Hanging out in medical for the required 20 mins after my shot.

We had our first science lecture of the year, hosted by the BICEP collaboration. Weird that they’re on Thursdays this year — kind of ruins the alliteration of Sunday Science Lecture… There was great attendance, and SPT will be giving the 2nd lecture of the year; either next week or the following depending on the COVID leveling of the station (we’re expected to have some flights in early in the week next week).

I was a few minutes late… so back of the galley was the only place left! Packed house for BICEP science talk.

BICEP also had an open house tour this weekend which was neat because they had one of their receivers opened up so people could see the insides of the telescope.

BICEP Array focal plane and sub-kelvin stages. Very different from (and yet also very similar to) the SPT focal plane! I believe the tile they have in there is 30GHz – super low frequency compared to SPT, mainly for characterizing the Galactic dust foregrounds.

The most exciting thing this weekend was the Solar eclipse. We didn’t get totality here at Pole, but we got 90% obscuration. 10% of the Sun is still pretty damn bright, so it didn’t get dark, but it did get noticeably dimmer (and 10F colder) during the peak of the eclipse. Several methods were used for viewing the eclipse; we didn’t have many proper eclipse glasses (maybe one or two pairs total) but we did have lots of welding masks and myself and one of the SPT winterovers set up one of the station’s optical telescopes for projecting the sun onto a surface for indirect viewing. I’m currently uploading a timelapse of the telescope projecting (don’t get too excited…) but here’s a still from early on in the event.

Solar eclipse as viewed through one of the station telescopes; projected on a screen.

Near the maximum obscuration I went out to SPT for photos (the SPT winterovers were hard at work setting up some spectacular photos that I will be excited to share when they’re ready)! Less spectacular is this selfie I attempted to take during the max:

Well that’s about all the excitement I can handle for one week. Stay tuned for my crappy timelapse and actual good photos / timelapse that I steal from others.

Gotta start working on the SPT science lecture (by that I mean piecing together old talks and adding in new science – yes I’m going to talk mostly about transients and AGN monitoring :P)

Nov 29th – Day 19 at Pole

Wow, it’s been 11 days since I last posted. Whoops.

Weather has warmed up a lot! We had a few record daily high temps (around -8F) but are now back down to -25F. Weather has been really calm the past few days too, so I could get some semi-comfortable runs in outside.

Biggest news is the departure of our final winterover from last year! He left for greener pastures today. It is now just the three of us – Me and the two upcoming SPT winterovers… I guess this means I need to remember how to run the damn thing!

The 2nd biggest news is that we did our first pole run of the season (or last run of the two previous WOs’ season)!

which was also the first time I got to see my year’s pole marker (designed by my WO partner Geoff Chen) in action!

A completely random event that happened was a world record attempt. The record to be set? The southern-most game of musical chairs… Turnout was pretty great for the event (I was surprised, but I guess it’s early summer and people are still eager to do things). I did not participate since I don’t really like the idea of a “southern-most” world record; I mean, everything we do here is the “southern-most” version of that thing. It was pretty entertaining to watch, though.

Viewing the world’s southern-most game of musical chairs from the galley.

We had a great Thanksgiving dinner and fun afterparty. I volunteered in the dish pit most of the day / evening which was fun. Can’t go wrong blasting music and cleaning dishes!

So far the summer is going great. We have several turnover/maintenance tasks left to do and will be shifting to observe our summer field in a few weeks (in order to avoid sun contamination).

Other than that, not much has changed. We haven’t had many flights in or out so the station population is about the same; minus the handful of people who left today.

One thing to look forward to here is the Solar eclipse, which will be ~90% visible from Pole on December 4th. Below is an animation I made of what the eclipse will look like from here; the sizes of the circles are actually pretty accurate to the real apparent sizes of the Sun and Moon.

I’m not sure I’ll be able to get any good pictures with my cell phone, but there are plenty of people here who have nice camera equipment, so hopefully I can steal some of those photos :).

All for now. Hope everyone up north is having a nice transition into winter!

Nov 18th – Day 8 at Pole

Hard to believe it’s been a week already!

Weather has been fantastic – the best I’ve ever experienced here; a week of really calm and clear conditions. Winds have picked up today (though they’re still about average or even below average) and it’s supposed to get a little “stormy” this weekend as increased winds bring in blowing snow, and mix up the thermal inversion layer. Current temps -43F, with windchill near -70F.

Food has been great! I haven’t missed a meal, in case you were worried.

Not much exciting has happened. We’re doing some summer maintenance on the telescope, and trying to tweak the performance of our fridge cycle (the thing that keeps our detectors cold). Other than that, things have been running extremely smoothly.

I got out for a run the other day and went down the ski way. Problem was that my goggles froze up almost immediately so I had to run the rest of the ~5miles with my balaclava pulled up nearly up to my hat to avoid both the cold and the sun… gotta figure something else out.

Pic from the end of the ski way, back toward the south pole – the Dark Sector is on the left, and the station on the right. Temp was around -50F, with a slight ~few knot breeze.

I’ve been setting myself up to get work done, so now that training has calmed down I will attempt to do that. Perhaps write some more of my thesis… who knows?! Crazier things have happened.

Nov 16th – Day 6 at Pole

This weekend was pretty busy – packed full of trainings. We did the first practice install of the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) optics, and it was quite cold (still hanging around -50F, which has set a few daily records) but has been super calm and clear.

The big news is that one of last year’s SPT winterovers has left to go back north today, the other one planning to leave on the 25th. The new winterovers have been put on the paging system and are now basically running the show; I’m just here to supervise 🙂 We have a few more training type things to do, but for the most part the training will just be operating the telescope for the next few months and getting comfortable solving problems that arise (and preventing problems from happening).

The weather has been really super clear and calm and cold. It’s kind of strange because usually it’s much warmer by now (-20 to -30 F ish) and there are usually some pretty windy/gray days. Just waiting on those warm summer days to start running outside more seriously.

I also suppose I will be in charge of organizing the annual SPT Ladies Night event, since there will be no other SPTers here around the time I’m thinking of having it (mid-December; depending on the COVID leveling status of the station)… so stay tuned for that !