Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Well hello again...

Oops.  I’ve been TERRIBLE about updating my blog!  Luckily, its actually a blessing in disguise – or something like that!  I have been so busy that the blog has once again taken the back burner.  Definitely a good thing in my mind!  If I was bored, I would not be having such a good time down here. 

I actually can’t believe we are already over a quarter of the way through June and less than two weeks from mid-winter!  The time down here is going unbelievably fast!  Some days of the week seem slow, but it seems like Saturday comes more and more frequently – definitely a good thing!  So some of the things that have gone on since April…

Its dark now!  When I checked this morning, the sun was almost 22.8 degrees below the horizon.  For those of you that don’t remember your Earth Science, the tilt of the Earth is about 23.3 degrees.  What that means down here is that the maximum degrees the sun will ever be above or below the horizon is 23.3 degrees.  The apparent motion of the sun overhead is a sine wave – for us this means it appears to rise or sink fastest when it is crossing the horizon, and seem very slow when we are near the peaks and troughs.  Right now is one of those slow times.  It will take another 13 days for the sun to sink the remaining 0.5 degrees below the horizon.  On the solstice we will be at our lowest point and begin to rebound.  Amazing stuff.

In the meantime, this week is about as dark as it is going to get all winter!  The sun is lowest, and there is no moon.  For having absolute darkness, it really isn’t all that pitch-black.  I had imagined that I would navigate mainly the sound of the flags flapping along our flag line, but this is certainly not the case!  The starlight and auroras are actually quite bright.  On most days, I can ‘clearly’ see the station from ARO, and vice versa.  And when I say ‘clearly’, I mean that there is a black smudge in the distance that can only be the buildings.  The darkest days are when we have clouds and wind obscuring the sky.  Then it’s a bit dark.  Still, navigation has been much easier than I would have thought.  Luckily, I have ‘laser eyes’ and my night vision was not affected by lasik over a year ago.  Some eyes don’t adjust well to the dark here, and many of the station crew use head lamps with red lights to navigate.  We can’t use white light because some instruments would be impacted by the entire spectrum.  It turns out red is a pretty good color (except for an instrument or two on top of ARO) and it allows your eyes to stay mainly adjusted even with the light being used. 

It is beautiful here in the light, but I think the real beauty of the South Pole is the night sky.  Unlike every other part of the world (other than the North Pole), we see the same stars all day and all night – nothing rises or sets besides the moon, sun, and planets.  Going outside several times per day, you really get to know the sky.  For the first time, I am able to pick out several constellations.  I only recognize one constellation from home, and it is only partial.  We Orion down here – usually I can pick out the three stars which make up his belt, but down here they aren’t visible.  Instead, all we see is his legs sticking out of the snow.  Its actually quite funny.  The most prominent and easily-recognized constellation is the Southern Cross.  It’s the constellation I use to navigate from time to time if the flags are difficult to see.  Its almost directly overhead and points in the different directions as the day progresses.  I have fallen in love with the Southern sky.

The auroras are INCREDIBLE!  WOW.  We had several amazing shows last month overhead.  I had only seen faint auroras in Alaska before – now I laugh at how excited I was to see the faintest hint of glowing green in the sky.  Our auroras are ‘full-on double rainbow’ auroras!   You just want to should into the sky, ‘What does it mean?!?!’  I can totally relate to what the Double Rainbow Guy felt during that hilarious YouTube clip.  (If you haven’t seen it, check it out ASAP.)  Most of the time there is at least a faint aurora streaming overhead.  Every once in a while it gets very bright and energetic.  The auroras vary in their intensities over a time scale of seconds.  It literally looks like a green glowing river flowing through the sky.  Sometimes when they are realllly energetic, red or purple is visible.  For several auroras, I saw streaks of purple flowing through the bright green auroras.  They move and vary so much that I always expect to hear a sound associated with them!  The crazy part is how low the auroras appear – this phenomenon actually occurs hundreds of kilometers above our heads and can be seen from space, but they appear to be hundreds of feet above our heads!  I am in awe every time I step outside here.  Just seeing the auroras makes the whole winter experience worth it.

In contrast, when the moon rises (the moon spends two weeks up, two weeks down), it is freakin’ bright!  I haven’t cursed the moon’s brightness since it used to wake me up shining in my window at home, but WOW it is bright here!  I get a little bummed because it completely washes out the auroras.  It is nice, however, to be able to walk from building to building seeing your footing, your path, and the actual destination clearly.  In the darkness, you end up stumbling a lot over new snow drifts that appear overnight – and sometimes you end up wandering off the beaten path as well.  I actually ran square into a flag the other day.  Its hilarious.  The moon eliminates these problems.  And we can perform some readings on the total column ozone that can’t be completed in the darkness.  The moon has its plusses and minuses. 

Station Events
Club Deep Freeze – in an effort to throw awesome dance parties, a few us organized ‘Club Deep Freeze.’  We essentially took one of the TV lounges on station and pimped it out with great lighting and sound.  On the club nights, we have great speakers, a designated DJ, a mini bar, black lights, laser lights, strobe-ish lights, and a disco ball set up.  Its wicked awesome.  The first Deep Freeze night had a 90’s dance music theme.  The second was funk.  The next party is going to be 80’s, right after mid-winter dinner.  Love it!

BF5K – This past weekend the station participated in the 7th annual BF5K, a 3.1-mile race through the station.  The catch is that it was a costumed race.  It was hilarious!  You could either race as an individual or as a team.  My team all wore lovely dresses, our competition wore matching ‘Life is Good’ garb, the women’s individual competitor went as the Log Lady from Twin Peaks, and the sole male individual runner started off as a valkyrie (I apologize for my spelling!), changing mid-race to a cheerleader.  All-in-all, it was a blast.  A good-sized crowd came out to watch and cheer on the runners.  I’m glad I was part of a team – running 3 miles in the station is brutal!  To start off with, you’re at about 10,000-11,000 ft physiological altitude, there is essentially 0% relative humidity in the station, and the floor is not forgiving.  After the race, I was coughing up a storm and I could feel my usual foot problems starting to come back.  Rawr.  I miss running outside! 

ARO Movies – I started ARO movie night back up last month.  I got a little burnt out my weekly ARO movie night this summer.  It was lovely having a break.  Now I’m holding it every few weeks, which is much better!  So far the movies have had a Soviet theme going.  Our first movie, by request, was ‘Red Dawn’, and the second requested movie was ‘Hunt for Red October’.  I think for the next movie, I’ll probably move on to a different genre.  Who knows!

Twin Peaks – About 10 of us have been watching Twin Peaks every Sunday night.  The lovely Ashley, our amazing host, has also been making pie, coffee, and home-made donuts for the show.  Its incredible!  I remember seeing the Sesame Street parody of Twin Peaks, ‘Twin Beaks’, when I was little.  Its very interesting watching the real series.  Its seriously messed up!  Just when you think you understand something, the whole situation changes and you’re left completely in the dark again.  Our little group has gotten really into the show.  Its not uncommon to hear someone mention Laura Palmer, Bob, or the one-armed man during week.

P90X – We have graduated from Power 90!  We completed our 90 days and moved on to P90X!  I’m reallllly glad we decided to finish Power 90 first before starting the next set of ‘Tony’ DVDs.  P90X is significantly more difficult.  If we had jumped into P90X, we would have either died or quit.  It is great though – you’re in pain most days, but it’s the good kind of pain!  The bad thing about this new workout plan is that we need to start at 0500 instead of 0530.  Its amazing how much of a difference 30 minutes makes!  I think its completely mental as well – there is just something wrong about waking up at 0430-0440 to work out.  I firmly believe that if the time of day has a 4 in the beginning of it, I should be sleeping (using military time here, people).  The three of us are now halfway through the third week and still going strong – that’s a good sign!

Knitting – Although this may not sound particularly exciting, I finished my first knitting project!  Instead of ending up with a normal cowl, I’m calling it a ‘sneed’ (Lorax reference).  Its HUGE – I can wear it as a cowl, hood, dress, skirt, you name it!  Hahaha.  I think it will be great for just keeping in the car.  You never know when you’ll get a chill.  It can probably even be a lap blanket.  I’ve learned my lesson – always test your gauge when knitting to see how many stitches you need!  With that lesson in mind, I have started my second knitting project, which is significantly harder.  I’m making a hat now – I can’t give too many details because it is a Christmas present, but it is comprised of two new stitches and actually has a real pattern to be followed.  So far I’ve started the test patch for my gauge twice and am now working on my third row.  Hahahahaha – this one project is going to take the rest of the winter!  I have been doing crochet projects on the side to keep myself sane – Christmas is pretty much completed except for this knitted hat.  I’m also starting to run low on my nice wool yarns.  It’s a good thing we only have five months left on the Ice!  I need another trip to Knit World in Christchurch!  If it is still standing, I’m planning on stocking up on my nice yarns and sending them home.  I’ll probably find a nice little project to work on during my 24 hours of flight time home too.  Ugh.  That’s too far in the future to start planning!

5 & 1 Pizzeria – Twice since the station closed, a group of 6 of us have run a pizzeria on days the galley crew has off.  Its been a blast – we start early making the dough and then reconvene after lunch to create about 25-30 pizzas, to be ready by 1800 dinner.  We are starting to get it down to a science.  Last time the pizza-making coincided with a ‘drive-in’ movie night in the gym, so we did pizza delivery to the movie-goers in the gym.  We had our awesome machinist create a rack for the bike and then attached a decorated box to carry the pizzas.  We’re a pretty serious operation, ya know.  Unfortunately, most of the audience was actually eating pizza in the galley, so we delivered to about 5 people, but we had a blast doing it!  Maybe next time… 

Life is good at the South Pole!  Sorry to everyone about not keeping in contact well these past two months – our satellite window has shifted and now I will either be calling the States super early in the morning, or super late at night!  And it’s the same here – when I call I either have to get up BEFORE P90X to catch the window, or stay up waaaay late past my bedtime!  It will be better in a month or two – I’ll be able to call everyone again!  I miss you all!  Thanks for all your support! 


David Pablo Cohn said...

Yay - another update! You make it sound like so much fun. And I'm sooo envious about the auroras. But figure I'd be ready for a nice warm beach by mid-winter. Nah, I'm not winterover material. But I get to experience it vicariously through your posts - thanks!

Kiell said...

Awesome, Christy! You make wintering sound like it's not a totally crazy idea. Is it possible to capture auroras on video, or do you need a longer exposure time? I had no idea they moved so much.
Thanks for the update! I hope midwinter is wonderful!

Ohio Tom said...

Thanks for the update. Glad your winter is going well. We're watching Twin Peaks back here in Ohio and couldn't agree more with your observations.