time reversal

the stories of four physicists separated by the whims of fate

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South Pole!

November 12th, 2008 by liz

The trip to the south pole was pretty uneventful. They dragged us out of bed at 5:30 am and we got on “Ivan the Terra Bus” and drove us to Pegasus airfield, where we boarded a LC-130 Hercules (a cargo plane equipped with skis). We flew over the Transantarctic mountains, which were beautiful, and then landed at Pole a few hours later.

Ivan the Terra Bus with Mt. Erebus in the background
“Ivan the Terra Bus” with Mt. Erebus in the background

Transantarctic mountains from the plane
Transantacrtic mountains from the plane.

Pole is at a physiological altitude of about 11,000 ft. When I stepped off the airplane, the temperature was -45F with a windchill of -70F, and I could barely take a full breath of the icy thin air. I dragged my bag up to the station and collapsed on a sofa for orientation. I’ve been here 5 days now, and I finally feel like I can breathe. I’m even getting used to the weather. Today is the first day I’ve been here that the windchill has been above -70F, and it feels downright balmy out.

The telescope is in the Dark Sector, a special region of the South Pole where you can’t use a radio and there is no light in the winter. The idea is that it can be a perfect place for astronomy without any electromagnetic interference. The walk from the station to the Dark Sector Lab is about 1km, and it’s damn cold when the wind is blowing. Since meals are in the station, we walk back and forth 2-3 times per day.

Martin in front of the Dark Sector Lab
Martin in front of the Dark Sector Lab

I’ve spent the last several days doing maintenance on the telescope, which generally involves me getting covered in grease or other dirty substances. This is a problem since we can only take two 2 minute showers per week. Luckily, there is no limit on washing your hands. The telescope is awesome! It’s a 10m diameter dish and it’s the tallest thing around for hundreds of miles. Most of the people at Pole think it’s really cool and want to learn all about the science we are doing with it. It’s great to talk to normal people like carpenters and cooks who are interested in physics and the origins of the universe, and are actually excited about it!

Liz with the South Pole Telescope. -40F feels nice and warm when the wind isn
Liz with the South Pole Telescope. -40F feels nice and warm when the wind isn’t blowing.

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