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Putting it back together (Part 2)

Last night we sealed up the camera and put it back on the optics cryostat. I took an absurd amount of video to show you what this involved… anyone who actually watches all of these should email me for a prize:

Video: Mating the cryostats (part 0)
Video: Mating the cryostats (part 1)
Video: Mating the cryostats (part 2)
Video: Mating the cryostats (part 3)
Video: Mating the cryostats (part 4)
Video: Mating the cryostats (part 5)
Video: Mating the cryostats (part 6)

We also started pumping the air out of the cryostats, which will continue for the next day or so… then we get to start cooling the camera and secondary mirror down to cryogenic temperatures so we can test them. That pumping and cooling process will probably take 4-5 days, during which we’ll get electronics set up and do some telescope maintenance.

Putting it back together (Part 1)

Last night we were sooooo close to having the whole camera put back together… and we noticed that some of the black material we’d installed (to cut down on internal reflections in the camera) was flaking onto a lens. So, we vacuumed it out as best we could, and then did a very scientific test

Video: Very Scientific Test

to see if any more black stuff fell onto the lens. Hard to see in the video, but the verdict was bad – it did. We also noticed the black stuff was in the way of part of the optical beam, and needed to be thinned. Big setback, but our intrepid crew decided on a fix, took apart the cryostat again, fixed everything and got it all back together by dinner today (Sunday).

Here’s a video of the focal plane going back into the cryostat after the fix, a major milestone in our reassembly:

Video: Focal plane goes back into the dewar

Brad is giving the station’s Sunday science lecture tonight; afterwards, we’ll head out and finish closing up the camera, and put it on the optics cryostat. Keep all fingers and toes crossed!

Taking it apart (part 2)

It’s Saturday here, and we’ve been working to take apart the camera and start the modifications. Here are two movies:

Brad taking the focal plane out of the dewar.

Abby taking a wedge of detectors out of the focal plane.

We’re a long way into the modifications, actually… we’re going back out tonight to finish things off and start closing up the cryostat. If all goes well, tomorrow we’ll finish closing and start the weeklong process of pumping it out and cooling it down.

(Keeping fingers crossed)

On other notes… it’s still cold here (surprise surprise!). Here’s a movie of me all bundled up, headed out to the telescope to work. Even the very light breeze here tries to freeze your face… we do this walk back and forth 3 times a day, and because of the altitude and cold it feels like good exercise!

Walking to Work.

Taking it apart (part 1)

Last night, the camera was finally warm enough inside to take it off the optics cryostat, so we did that and started taking apart the camera so we can do our work on it. We’ll do all the modifications over the next 2-3 days, then close it up and start cooling it all down again so we can test whether the upgrades worked. (If they cause problems, we’ll have to open it up again to fix them… hope for no problems!)

Here’s a picture of me (what we call a “hero shot”) with both cryostats after we separated them. The big white one contains some of our optics, and the red one in front is the camera.

You might ask “Why are you wearing a hat and warm overalls inside?” Good question. The overalls are heavily insulated, very warm. I’m also wearing my fleece jacket. With all the electronics and compressors that operate our instrument turned off, the room underneath the telescope is pretty cool – about 50F or so. So it’s kind of like working in a warm refrigerator. After a long day working, I tend to get cold more easily, and it’s nice to be in something that keeps you warm at that point.

In this next picture, I’m actually working. :) Abby and I are removing the various layers that cover up the focal plane of the instrument, so it can get very very cold (down to 1/3 of a degree Kelvin, right near absolute zero). We’re wearing those white gloves so we don’t get any finger-grease on the parts inside the cryostat.

Finally, here’s what is inside. This is the backside of the focal plane, so you can’t see the detectors. What you do see is all the wiring and the thermal connections to various stages of refrigeration; the coolers are off to the side, out of the picture inside the cryostat.

By the time we got to this point, it was about 11pm, so we stopped and headed in for the midnight meal (“midrats”). Tomorrow we take the focal plane out and get to work!

Cover all skin

It’s pretty cold here – hovering around -40F (which also happens to be -40C) or so, but only 6knots of wind which puts the windchill at about -60F. On the walk out to the telescope, any exposed skin gets really really cold, to the point of hurting. I’ve been walking out with just sunglasses, a hat, and a neck gaiter, and getting cold and having to put up my hood to cut the wind. Getting tired of that, I followed the lead of some others down here and modified my ski goggles to cover my nose. Here’s a video showing them, filmed inside our science lab here at the station.

Modified Goggles video

Feel free to try this at home!

Work begins

Today – my first full day at the Pole – we went out to the telescope to start our work. We’re here to do some modifications to the camera that will help improve the pictures we take with it – more on that later. The camera (also known as the “receiver”, since that’s what we call radio-frequency detectors) is housed up in the telescope, and it takes a lot of work to get it down so we can work on it.

First, though, here’s a glory shot of me with the telescope in the background – the telescope is 30 feet in diameter, my head is much smaller – really!

That’s what we did today; we moved the telescope so the “receiver cabin” was docked with the room of the control room that sits beneath the telescope, opened up some big doors between the ceiling of that room and the floor of the receiver cabin, and lowered the whole 2000 pound package from the telescope into that room.

Before we could do that, we had to unplug all the cables from the electronics that read out the camera – lots of cables, because there’s about 1000 channels of data coming from the receiver into the data system. We also had to disconnect all the hoses that cool the receiver and optics down to cryogenic (4K and below) temperatures. Then, we carefully lowered everything using some chain hoists – kind of like mini hand-operated cranes. Here’s a picture of two of the grad students (Liz from UC Berkeley at upper middle, Abby from U. Chicago on the right) working to unhook everything before we lowered it.

Also, here’s movie (a little bit shaky again -I’ve got to get a steadier hand!) from up inside the receiver cabin before we lowered the whole thing down to the ground.

Inside Receiver cabin before lowering

Pole at last!

Today I finally made it to the Pole!

We had an easy C-130 ride from McMurdo, which lasted about 3 hours. The C130 is very noisy, so you have to wear earplugs the whole time. The view was great; we flew low over the Transantarctic mountains, up some huge glaciers, to the polar plateau. There are some videos posted here:

On the C130, getting ready to leave

Flying low over the Transantarctic mountains (1)

Flying low over the Transantarctic mountains (2)

Arrival at Pole

Look for the shadow of the airplane in those mountain shots!

Sorry about the shaky video of the Pole arrival… I wasn’t sure the camera was on, and it was a bit cold! -35F or so… I wasn’t sure the camera was going to survive for long. :)

Update 11/20: I finally downloaded some photos from my camera. Below are two from the C130 ride – one of me in my seat, and the other of the seating area to give you an idea of what it looks like – we’re all in our cold weather gear, sitting in those nice comfy red web seats… not exactly first class, but much better than walking!

The Pole is high (9500ft or so, with a higher pressure altitude) and very dry (2% humidity), so I’m taking it easy the rest of today, getting acclimated. Tomorrow I’ll head out to the telescope… we plan to start warming the receiver and pull it down off the telescope to start working on it.

Stay warm!

At last!

Ice at last!

This morning we reported early to the Antarctic Center, got dressed in our cold-weather gear, and after a long wait we boarded our beautiful C-17 headed for McMurdo. The C-17 is a pretty large military jet, much more comfortable than the C-130 (a propeller plane) and C-141 (an older jet) rides I’ve taken before down here. It was a treat.

I still have to download pictures from my camera, so here’s a link to some videos taken with my ever-handy iPhone:

Boarding the C-17
Looking out the window as we flew over Antarctica
Inside the cockpit of the C-17

You’ll notice that McMurdo is actually pretty warm – when we got off the plane, people had their jackets open, etc. The jet landed out on the “annual sea ice” runway, which has a nice hard surface that works for its wheels. We took a big “delta” vehicle (huge wheels) in to town, which is on Ross Island. The island has lots of black volcanic rock which, once it’s clear of snow, catches the sun and further melts the snow. So the base itself (“town”) can get pretty muddy. Today is a nice warm day – two days ago they had snowdrifts everywhere.

We report early tomorrow morning for our flight to the South Pole… let’s hope the weather stays nice so we can get there!

Beach day

Flying the Antarctic Airline can be frustrating, because you don’t get much information about what’s happening. Yesterday (Saturday here) I heard that we’re not flying out until Tuesday… not sure why, but that long a delay isn’t about weather. It’s mostly likely about someone else getting to jump in front of you in line.

What can you do? When life gives you lemons… go to the beach. I took a short bus ride to New Brighton beach, where they have a marvelous sandy beach, great pier, and get this… a *library* right on the beach! Very cool, and here’s a few pictures, of me, of the beach and hills, and the pier. What a great day!

Food and Coffee

Well, one thing the New Zealanders do a good job of is making coffee. Regular “drip” coffee like we drink in the US isn’t available. Everything is espresso-based. The two unique drinks here are called a “Long Black” and a “Flat White”.

The long black is a double-pull of espresso into a cup that’s already holding a few ounces of hot water; it’s kind of like an americano with less water, and is really really good.

The flat white is like a latte, but with far less milk. Here’s a picture of this morning’s “soy flat white” (yes, I found soy here!) along with my morning fruit bowl. And below that, yesterday’s lunch of a bowl of cooked vegetables… healthy food at last! Both of these pictures are from the Metro Cafe’. I’ve also been eating a lot of Japanese/Korean food, which is everywhere since there seems to have been a significant migration of Asians into Christchurch over the last decade.


(By the way, rumor has it we’re not going south tomorrow either; more chance to catch up on work reading, and more chance to eat. :)