Friday, January 20, 2017

Unique spots at the South Pole

The south pole is an intrinsically interesting place with a lot of unique character.  In this post I’ve tried to capture some of the distinctive spots around station on film.  Enjoy the photo-tour!

First is the station itself.  The main station is built on stilts and anchored into the ice.  This photo shows me learning how to fly a ski-kite with the main station in the background.
[Learning to fly a kite with the main station in the background.  Thanks Denis for letting me fly your kite!]

Gymnasium.  The station has a gymnasium the size of a volleyball court.  It is fantastic having this space for sports activities, open-mic nights, parties, and other recreational activities.  We play volleyball, soccer, basketball, frisbee, ride unicycles, run training circuits, dance, play floor hockey, badminton… It is a well-used space!
[Volleyball tournament in the gymnasium.]

Roads.  Since everything is built on snow and ice, roads are simply groomed snow.  The road from the main station to the “dark sector” where the telescope sits is about 1 km long.  We walk there most mornings, and sometimes ride a snowmobile.
[The “road” to work in the dark sector.]

“Sun Dog.”  Ice crystals in the air reflect light, at times creating a bright ring around the sun called a sun dog.
[Walking home after a long day with a spectacular sun dog over-head.]

Gas Station.  This is where we re-fuel the snowmobiles and other vehicles.  Even at the south pole, sometimes you have to wait in line to get gas!
[Jessica filling up the snowmobile at the gas station]

“Berms.”  Extra equipment in stored in long rows called the “berms.”  We made numerous trips there this year to find old equipment and un-used crates for sending telescope parts home.
[The berms area is on the right-hand side of this photo.  photo credit Justin Willmert]

[Me taking a nap on an old spool in the berms.]

Climbing gym.  Some number of years ago, a group of motivated winter-overs built a small climbing gym out in summer camp.  It’s small but still steep enough to train in.  It gets used often during the summers!

[I don’t actually climb with all of these warm clothes on, but it looked good in the photo!]

[The “cartwheel route.”]

“Beer Can.”  This is a stairwell on one side of the station.  It is built like a grain-silo.  The sewage pipe goes out the beer can, so it usually smells a bit putrid on these stairs.

[The “beer can” stairwell.]

Logistics Operations hall.  At the south pole the outdoors provides a natural freezer.  Frozen food is kept in a giant Indiana-Jones-esque hall in the “arches” with row upon row of frozen food.

[The Logistics Operations hall with frozen food.  Mmmm, guacamole!]

Fuel.  The station is powered by a fuel generator.  The fuel being actively burned is kept in a tank under ground in the “arches,” away from the main station.  All of the other extra fuel tanks are kept out at the end of the berms, almost half a mile away.  Most of the fuel is now drug to the station from McMurdo on the coast by tractors.  This traverse takes 30+ days to make the trip.  This year, three traverses were made to bring in fuel.

[Underground fuel tank for the power plant.]

[The fuel bladders that were drug in by the traverse, and the man who drove this particular set of bladders.]

[The Traverse tractors that bring the fuel.]

“The Tunnels.”  The water on station comes from melting snow in large under-ground cavities called “Rodwell’s”.  Each Rodwell lasts several years before a new one has to be created.  It’s hard to get a picture of that!  Long tunnels have been burrowed 40 feet under the snow to access the current Rodwell.  These were originally cut with a dedicated machine, but they slowly shrink in size as the surrounding snow pushes in on the tunnels.  Station workers maintain the tunnels by cutting out the walls with chainsaws and hauling the blocks out on sleds.  It’s a form of mining, but with snow and at -60 deg F.

[The Tunnels and a sled full of snow blocks ready to be removed.  The pipes on the right bring water from the Rodwell to the station.]

“The End of the World.”  Wind blows across the Antarctic continent unencumbered for hundreds of kilometers, until it hits the South Pole station.  Thus wind-blown snow drifts heavily around all of the buildings.  Significant effort is put into bulldozing and removing snow with big trucks.  The snow is simply dumped down-wind of station and allowed to continue blowing across the continent.  The edge where the snow is dumped is called the “End of World,” where the vastness of the continent spreads out to the horizon and beyond.

[The End of the World where drifting snow is dumped.]

[Jessica just past the End of the World, with the Antarctic icecap spreading out behind.]

“Maps Wave.”  As an impressive example of drifting snow, a massive cornice forms behind the Mapo building that we have come to all the Mapo Wave.

[Me and Jessica pretending to surf the maps wave.  I obviously don’t actually know how to surf…]

“Dark Sector Lab.”  Finally, the reason I’m here, the South Pole Telescope.  The SPT and BICEP telescopes reside in the Dark Sector Lab.

[Dark Sector Lab with the South Pole Telescope and BICEP.  I am adjusting the panel-gap tabs on the primary mirror.  This picture was taken from a fully-extended man-lift.]

I hope you enjoyed the virtual tour of some of the more unique places at the South Pole!  A special thanks to Jessica Avva for joining me for most of this photo project and taking many of the pictures.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

SPT-3G: Assembly at Pole

This austral summer season at Pole, our primary objective is to install the SPT-3G camera.  SPT-3G is the third generation camera to be installed on the South Pole Telescope.  This camera will be a major step forward in mapping and studying the Cosmic Microwave Background.  How well we can measure this cosmic signal scales with the number of detectors in our camera; SPT-3G will increase the number of detectors by 10-fold over the previous SPTpol camera.  Additionally, each detector is sensitive to one of three frequencies of light; 3G has roughly the same sensitivity to these three frequencies.  With these improvements, I am very excited about analyzing the data we will take with this camera!

In my first month here at Pole, we assembled the 3G camera.  Here is a photo-essay of the assembly process.

Removing SPTpol:
As the first step, we took down the SPTpol secondary mirror cryostat and camera.
[Removing the SPTpol secondary mirror cryostat from the receiver cabin]

[Loading 3G and unloading SPTpol crates using a fork-lift on a snow ramp]

Optics Bench Installation:
The optics bench holds the secondary and tertiary mirror, and has the ability to move so we can focus the camera.  The optics bench was assembled outside the telescope building, then lifted into place with a crane.

[After assembly, Josh and Jessica measure the optics bench before it is installed.]

[Lifting the optics bench into place on the telescope.]

[Looking up at the newly installed optics bench from inside the receiver cabin.]

Camera Assembly (milli-Kelvin stage, detectors, cold detector readout):
Grossly over-simplifying, the camera consists of detectors that absorb the CMB light, and electronics that read out the detectors.  These detectors operate at 0.260 Kelvin, just above absolute zero.

[The detector array.  The small white domes are lenslets that focus light onto each pixel.  Each pixel in turn contains 6 detectors: 3 frequencies and two polarizations per frequency.  Here we have installed 2 detector wafers; the full focal plane will contain 10 wafers.]

[Cold readout electronics (specifically the LC towers) are mounted below the detectors.]

[The full focal plane and mili-Kelvin stage]

[Amy and Josh after assembling the detector stage.]

[The detector stage is then mounted into the camera cryostat body so it can be cooled and operated.]

Fridge Assembly:
The camera is cooled in several stages.  The final stage is cooled to 260 mili-Kelvin with a Chase Fridge.

 [Chase Fridge, ready to be installed]

[Installing the fridge in the camera cryostat.]

[View of a physicist: Josh installing heat-straps on the fridge.]

[Just finished sealing up the gaps after installing the fridge.]

Lens Assembly:
A series of lenses are used to focus incoming light onto the detectors.

[Preparing a lens for mounting.]

[Matt  working on a lens mount.]

[The team mounting an optics tube over a lens Photo: Robert Guyser]

Finished camera Assembly:

 [The camera, fully assembled.  Photo: Robert Guyser]

[The team and the camera!]

Test Mount of the camera:
We tested lifting all ~2500 lbs of the camera assembly into the telescope receiver cabin and mounting it in place.  It took all day, but it fit!
[Adam, Matt, and Amy, mounting the warm readout electronics.]

[John and Josh preparing to lift the camera into the cabin.]

[Jessica, Eric, Amy, Brad and JT start lifting the camera using chain-hoists.]

[Starting the lift.]

[It fits!  Dinner time, then we took it right back down.]

Now that the camera is assembled, we are working hard to make it work well.  Stay tuned!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

South Pole 2016: SPT-3G deployment

After at two year hiatus, it looks like I've found myself back in Antartica!  This year I will be spending two full months at the South Pole.  We are here to install the third-generation camera on the South Pole Telescope (SPT).  This camera is creatively called "SPT-3G."  I know, it sounds like a cell-phone network.  But the name is uniquely searchable on the internet, a very important criteria!  This year, I will be blogging about my time here in Antarctica deploying SPT-3G.  I'll write a dedicated post about the instrument and the science we plan to do with the data later.  Stay posted.

Let's get things going with a few pictures from the trip from sunny California to the snowy (but still sunny) south pole.  The trip starts with a flight to Christchurch, New Zealand.  Christchurch had a bad earthquake back in 2011 (see my blog posts from that time), and has recovered remarkably.  Down town Christchurch is now vibrant and full of people, shops, flowers, and kiwi charm.  Sadly, another earthquake shook New Zealand while I was on the airplane over the Pacific.  Unlike 2011, however, the earthquake was away from city centers so the quake did not cause nearly as much damage.  We ended up staying in Christchurch for only 20 hours, before flying on to Antarctica.


On the next stage of the trip, we flew from Christchurch to Ross Island on the coast of Antarctica.  This flight is on a C-17, run by the New York national guard.  Below is the inside of the plane.  Our luggage is strapped in on the left, and passengers are on the right.  Note the guy in the hammock - good thinking!

[Inside of the C-17]

[Here's the C-17, having just landed on the Ross Ice Shelf.]

Everything in Antarctica is big, heavy, and robust.  This notably includes clothing and vehicles.  Here are a couple shots of the vehicle we took between the McMurdo station and the Pegasus airfield.

[Transportation from Pegasus to McMurdo.  Erebus in the background.]

[Inside the transportation]

[stickers inside the transportation]

We spent a few days in McMurdo waiting for good weather to fly to pole.  Since it was early season, I was able to go down the "Observation Tube." This is a ~20 foot metal tube with a glass observation chamber at the bottom that has been installed in the ice.  You climb down, then are able to see into the Antarctic Ocean, under the ice. It was amazingly beautiful!  We were able to hear the sounds of seals.

[Adam drops into the Obs Tube]

[Antarctic Ocean, under the ice]

[Matt re-emerges all smiles!]

The third and final stage of the trip is a flight from McMurdo to the South Pole on a LC-130.  This flight went very smoothly, but I unfortunately missed seeing most of the trans-Antarctic mountains.  Here is one picture I did get.

[Trans-Antarctic Mountains]

It's great to be back at Pole!  I'm very excited for SPT-3G, and happy to be here as part of a great team.  Looking forward to the next two months!

[At the South Pole!]