The moon set this weekend, so I'm carrying a radio with me when I stray from the dome, as it is quite dark again. I like seeing the sky fill with stars again. There have been some incredible aurorae the last week or so--filling most of the sky, green, red and white.
The four experiments I run in the Aurora Lab look up at the sky during the south pole night. The instruments are mounted on the roof of the building, and observe through plexiglass domes. It is a non-trivial task to keep these domes from frosting up--inside is near +80F, outside is often -80F. Most of them are double walled and have nitrogen gas either flowing through the little gap, or overpressurized nitrogen in there. What this means for me is that I have to lug large steel cylinders of nitrogen gas up to my lab every few weeks. These cylinders are about five feet tall, made of steel, and weigh around 200 pounds. They don't have any handles, so they are hard to move. I sometimes tilt them a bit and roll them, or "bear hug" them--wrap my arms around them and kind of hoist/drag them. The bear hug doesn't work very well when they are cold! (They are stored out under the dome until I need them.) One has to be careful with these cylinders--the gas inside is pressurized (2500 psi when full), and if one falls and the valve at the top cracks off, the cylinder becomes a missile. They have little screw on caps that must be on when they are being moved. The caps, also steel, weigh about 5 pounds.
I use about one tank a week, and I can store 3 in my lab, so every few weeks I drag the empties out and bring in some new ones. Luckily there is the cargo elevator for getting them up to the fourth floor! Last week, I was wriggling one of the cylinders into place in the darkroom (which is very dark) which was making a considerable vibration on the floor and walls. I hadn't realized there was a small shelf up above my head, on which lived a couple of extra cylinder caps and some regulators. Well, one of the caps fell off the shelf and hit me on the nose. There is probably a hairline fracture right on the bridge of my nose! It didn't swell too much, but it is surprisingly painful: my range of facial expressions is severely limited for now. After a week I can finally chew most foods without pain, but nobody better dare touch my nose!
The "hallway" between the hypertats and the bathroom is unheated, and tends to be about 30F above ambient (outside temp is -90F today). In the mornings I dart down there in a set of long underwear and a fleece jacket. When I remove the jacket I always build up a lot of static electricity; I normally shock myself on the metal cubby where my toothbrush lives. The other day I happened to turn the faucet on right after removing my jacket. Now, the faucet has a plastic handle, which didn't dissipate the static charge, so when I put my hand under the water the charge travelled through the water to the metal faucet! Water really does conduct electricity!
Its been hovering near 90 for over a week, so Jake hasn't been able to bring over any snow from the mine for our snowmelter. All the snow that was there has been used, and the snowmelter is nearly empty. We have been asked not to shower at Chades (or in the El Dorm, which also gets water from the same melter) until more snow gets brought over, to make the water last as long as possible for toothbrushing and toilets!
Cribbage is a popular game here. There was a tournament this summer, and I expect there will be another this winter. There is a group of four of five of us that have been playing daily for a while--normally we play partners, four people in a game. I learned to play cribbage when I was very young--my mother taught me numbers and adding playing hours of cribbage! I hadn't played much as an adult before I got down here, so I'm very glad to have a group to play with regularly!
copyright 2001 Andrea Grant
return to journal page return home