Lets start at the South Pole!
This South Pole is a ceremonial one. The actual South Pole is located at 90 degrees south latitude, just a few hundred feet from the ceremonial one. It is constantly moving as the snow and ice slowly shift around; its exact position is remeasured every year and a new placemarker is posted.
The flags surrounding the pole represent all the countries that have signed an international treaty to keep Antarctica a free land, with no official owner. Behind the flag, you can see the new South Pole Station. This station replaces the last one, called the “dome” built in the 1970’s. There is another station too, built in the 1950’s. It has been long abandoned and now lies buried under ice and snow. Lets go inside the new station shall we? The closest entrance from the pole is this tin tower …
The first stop once inside and on the 2nd floor is the galley (well, you really should take off your gear first, but we’re just passing through). This is the cafeteria where you can grab a bite to eat any time of the day and night.
Now, lets step out into the hall and walk further into the station.
As we walk down the hall, we pass the medical clinic on our right, dubbed “club med”.
Everything we have seen so far is in the “A-pod” section of the station, now we’ll go into the “B-pod”. They are really very similar places, and are connected as one building. The main reason they have separate identities is in case of emergency. I live in the “B-pod” so lets head towards my room. On the way, we pass through the game room and lounge.
Then moving along a little further, we pass the bathroom. One thing that makes living at pole hard is the lack of water. Sure there is plenty of ice and snow, but to melt it all so you can use it and drink it is hard and time consuming. For this reason, we are limited to 4 minutes of showers per week! Also, because the area we live in is so small, and so many people are put close together, germs spread fast. So its super important for everyone to be even more careful and wash his or her hands very often down here.
Now we are in the bedroom area of B-pod … my room’s 216, come on in!
All right that’s the second floor, lets go down stairs and see if there is anything else that might be interesting. The first cool place on the first floor is the green house. Here occupants of the station grow their own vegetables under artificial sunlight. They have lettuce, tomatoes, scallions and a bunch more!
So what do you do when you run out of soap? Or you want to watch a new DVD? Or you’re looking for the perfect souvenir for you friend? Well, you come to the station store of course. Its located in the mailroom. Of course, people here also receive mail just like everyone else back home! Mail day is very much like Christmas, when you wake up in the morning, the halls are lined with boxes and care packages from home!
That’s enough of the station, lets gear up and head on out. Don’t forget to put on your undies, long underwear, undershirt, long sleeve pullover, sweat pants, fleece jacket, insulated overalls, thick socks, boot liner slippers, extra thick boots, glove liners, wool mittens, leather mittens, neck fleece, hat, and your goggles are very important. The sun down here is very strong, and when it reflects off the snow it can hurt your eyes! Now pull on your hood and lets go out!
We just stepped out of the Zulu exit/entrance. Now, lets hit the path to the MAPO building where my telescope is located. As we walk out, the first thing you see is the old base, the dome. The dome covers an underground facility. There are a number of separate building which take cover from the weather under the dome. There are also some barracks in the distance where some people still live. Those aren’t as comfy.
As we leave the station, we can see MAPO in the distance, about a half mile walk. With all this stuff on, its going to take us at least 15 min.
As we move away from the station, its nice to look back and see how cool it all looks. If you haven’t noticed yet, the whole thing looks like its made of plywood, that because the station is still under construction!
Ooops, I forgot to warn you. When w walk to MAPO we have to cross the runway where the Hercules planes land and take off. Make sure to check and see if the beacon is flashing and look both ways before crossing to the other side. We don’t want to get hit by a plane do we?
Ah, we’re getting close, that big wooden bowl in the air behind me is the surrounding ground shield for the telescope. My telescope is named QUaD (it stands for QUEST and DASI, two telescopes that have been combined). Before we go see the telescope, I thought Id first point out the bathroom. That’s right, its an outhouse! The black paint and solar panels help keep it warmer inside than out, but that doesn’t mean the toilet seat isn’t freezing anyway!
All right, now that we’ve gotten to the roof, we can go inside and check out QUaD. Before we do, let me explain it a little first. QUaD is a special type of telescope that looks at the universe through microwave light. Microwaves are very common in our universe and in fact, there is a lot of microwave radiation left over from when the universe was young, after the big bang. These are the same microwaves that your oven uses to cook food, but they are not nearly as strong. Microwaves are so common in fact that most anything can shine in microwaves, you, me, the building, especially the ground. The big bowl around the telescope is actually the back of a mirror. This giant mirror reflects microwaves we are not looking for away from QUaD, this way we can focus on what we are interested in only! So, lets walk inside the “ground shield” and see exactly what I mean.
See what I mean, that last photo was a picture of my reflection, you can see the telescope behind me. Since QUaD is looking at special microwave light, it doesn’t look like the type of telescope you might be used to when you look at stars at night. The telescope you would use is good for regular or visible light. The microwaves require some special equipment to see. QUaD is a big radio dish, kinda like the ones you might use for satellite T.V., but we’ve covered it with a special foam cone. This cone is invisible to microwaves, but you cant see through it. So when you look at the next picture (not taken by me) you can see the ground shield mirror, then the telescope with the foam cone on top.
Here is a closeup with the cone and me!
QUaD is not the only microwave telescope at the Pole. There have been many before it and there are still more to come. On the other side of MAPO we can see the VIPER telescope that most recently housed the ACBAR experiment. In the distance is the Dark Sector Lab (DSL). There is a new telescope being installed right now, similar to QUaD, its called BICEP.
Ok, well I guess I’m gonna stay and do some work, but you should walk back to station …
Enjoy the weather! Bye!