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December 25, 2019 - Christmas At The South Pole

Today is Christmas, and while I miss my family and would love to be with them for the holidays, life at the South Pole continues to be fun and exciting. Christmas celebrations with the BICEP Array research team and all the great people working on the Station has been wonderful. It has been a month and a half of living with everyone in one building and walking the same 800 meters to work 6 days a week, but still the buzz of being here at the bottom of the world hasn't worn off. The sun spins around in circles, never setting. It reached it's peak in the sky on Dec. 21, and so began the slow spiraling descent into winter. The temperatures have really warmed up, too, typically around -15°F with mild winds of about 10 knots or less, sometimes with a windy day of 15 knots or so.

We got amazingly lucky with the weather building the mount. Calm winds and sunny skies allowed us to work efficiently outside building the telescope mount. In just a few short weeks we were able to pull the old Keck Array mount and build up the new BICEP Array mount. December 16th we put the last pieces on with the crane and sealed it up against the cold. Most of the work on the mount can now proceed from the inside where it is warm and comfortable. There is still lots to do, but we already have the telescope mount moving under servo control as we conduct drive system testing and install the components that will be needed to interface with a BICEP Array receiver.

The DASI Mount AKA Keck Mount
RIP Keck Array...

Outside of work, the notable events of the past few weeks has been the 2nd 1st Annual Head Weighing Competition and Christmas festivities. The head weighing competition was a spectacle to behold. Nearly half the station got their head 'weighed' by dunking their head into a full bucket of water. The displaced water was weighed and recorded, with the smallest and largest head getting a prize. You could also team up and guess the combined weight of yours and your partners heads before dunking, the closest guessing team also got a prize. I can't remember what the prizes were, but they were scrounged from the excavation site in the berms where they are digging up buried stores of station supplies and materials. You make do with what you have when it takes two months for a package to be delivered (and that's only an option in the summer). Somehow watching people dunk their heads for hours turned out to be incredibly fun. The MC kept the crowd entertained, drinks were poured, bets were placed, and trophies were won and lost. Only at the south pole...

The first South Pole Overland Traverse (SPOT) of 2019 came and went, resupplying the station with fuel and cargo. They drag sleds with fuel and cargo behind big tractors, paving a path up the glaciers from McMurdo all the way to the South Pole. They have some pretty awesome equipment to make that run. They do have to watch out for changes in the glacier and crevasses, for which they have a leading vehicle with a ground penetrating radar system installed on a boom sticking out in front of it.

Hannah likes big tractors.
Hannah, one of the winter research associates, and a SPOT tractor.

The day before Christmas eve, an open mic night was held in the gym. People came to play music and tell Christmas stories. There are a lot of talented people living here. My personal favorites were ukulele renditions of Riptide and Titanium. A passage from "The Grinch Stole Christmas" was read, as well as "The Night Before Krampus". Christmas eve was a work day for us, but we knocked off early for Christmas Eve dinner. Appetizers and drinks came first, mingling with the station population, then we went into the galley for toasts and an impressive meal. After dinner and clean up, the BICEP Array team met in one of the lounges for some drinks and laughs. Later on in the evening, some industrious station crew had set up the big sound system outside behind the station, and one of the 50 foot tall piles of snow was groomed into a sledding hill. It was the closest thing to the adrenaline rush of downhill skiing I've had in about a year!

The "Race Around The World" was held on Christmas morning. This is a 2 mile fun-run that goes around the station outside. People dressed in costumes and walked, ran, skied, bicycled, or rode the party barge complete with music and a sizzling grill with bratwurst. I volunteered as a timekeeper for the race and helped design and make the giant novelty size checks for the first and second place prizes. The prizes weren't checks for money, but 10 minutes (for first place) and 5 minutes (for second place) extra shower time. Shower time is highly valued here, with only 2 2-minute showers allowed per week!

That about wraps up this blog post. Stay tuned for an update after the new years and the 2020 south pole marathon on Jan 5!