May, 2004....J. Dana Hrubes...updated May 31, 2004 , 0215 GMT

The full moon illuminating the flagline and the dark sector. The moon makes its appearance 14 days out of every 28 days
The polar plateau is very dark when the moon isn't present.

May at the Pole - beautiful skies and eternal darkness

With the end of astronomical twilight, May is the first full month of complete darkness.    where is the sun now?    The moon was up for two weeks early in the month and it as down for the last two weeks resulting in a much more difficult walk.  One advantage of the lack of moonlight, however, is that the auroras are much more spectacular when it is totally dark.   new elevated station under a full moon       As the winter progresses, the snow drifting and sastrugi become more and more of a problem when walking my 2-1/2 miles each day to visit my project sites. Sastrugi are wind blown formations in the snow cover that can get very big and quite hard packed and are randomly located throughout the antarctic plateau. They are formed when a snow drift is eroded or carved out by blowing ice crystals. Away from the pole where it is even windier, I have heard they can get more than 6 feet tall. Here they only get a few feet high, just right to trip on and fall on your red nose. They get worse in the winter because there is little sublimation of the snow at that time and they are good for tripping. That is why my knees are often sore.             sastrugi 1       sastrugi 2      (sastrugi photos by Kevin Dupuy)

I usually don't use my headlamp when walking to a site, because you can actually see better when you let your eyes adjust to the darkness. When asked how it is to walk to the sites each day, I answer, "It is like walking blindfolded through a field of bowling balls wearing many layers of stiff extreme cold weather clothing and a backpack at -96 F with the wind in your face on the surface of Mars". On those occasions when the moon is up and full and the winds are low and it is about -90 F or so, it can be extremely enjoyable, because you can see where you are going and the wind isn't trying to frostnip every tiny portion of exposed skin. I rarely wear goggles, because they frost up very easily at these extreme temperatures. I just have my head covered with a windstopper balaclava with a neck gaiter pulled up right under my eyes and my knit insulated hat pulled down right over my eyes so I just have a tiny slit to look out of. When it is windy and you are face into the wind you usually still have perpetual frostbite on the bridge on your nose, but for the most part that little bit of exposed skin on the nose, cheeks and eyes are protected my a blanket of your warm exhalation.   viewing life through the fleece    

One of the buildings, the VLF beacon transmitter building that is almost a mile off station has a severe snow drifting problem right where the door is, so quite a bit of digging has been required upon each daily visit, particularly when it is very windy.  The VLF beacon, a Stanford University project, transmits a sine wave at 19.4 KHz and is received at stations in Antarctica such as Palmer and McMurdo stations. The received signal is compared to the transmitted signal and the difference tells us quite a bit about the behavior of the lower ionosphere, specifically electron precipitation.  I have jokingly given the station a call sign of "KNPX" , NPX being the designator for South Pole.      VLF building door drift       door open with inside red light     entering the cold room of the building     entering the warm room through the freezer door    VLF transmitter      transmitter power source-batteries/inverters  

On the other side of the station, over a mile from the VLF beacon is the SETI telescope, a project of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute (associated with NASA/AMES) and University of New South Wales, Australia. Here we are searching for new planets around other stars in our galaxy.  Here we view large numbers of stars simultaneously watching for specific periodic changes in brightness. The objective of this particular search is to discover very large planets close to its parent star resulting in short period orbits so that we can observe these orbits within the 3 to 4 month viewing window of eternal darkness at the South Pole.    inside the SETI/AASTO building next to the telescope tower       troubleshooting the telescope mount controller   soldering circuit boards        

The auroras were again spectacular this month.    meteorology department daily advisory    aurora-1    aurora-2    aurora-3    aurora-4     aurora-5     aurora-6      aurora-7     

And finally we (the winter band) performed again this month. Our name was the "Dana Hrubes Comeback Project" (not my idea) since I hadn't played drums in a rock group for 33 years until this year. This time the construction crew set up a scaffold for my drum set to raise me up a couple of feet and our lead guitar player, Kevin, built some great lighting for us.     the band      me on my new platform     the band lighting     drums   

NEXT MONTH:   Mid-Winter.... June 21.....

       A Real-Time Photo of South Pole Station as Seen from the ARO Building (live when satellite is up)

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