Sunday in McMurdo, which means zero chance for a flight out of here. The plus side to that is we're not checking the monitors and we can go out and see the sights a little bit. At the start of the day we hitched a ride out to the Long Duration Balloon Facility. About seven miles from the station, this is where balloon experiments like EBEX and BLAST are assembled and launched. As I mentioned last time, EBEX is launching for the first time this year, while the newest incarnation of BLAST (BLAST-pol) is also launching. The brother of BLAST PI Mark Devlin, whom you may have seen a couple years ago on the Colbert Report, made a movie about the experiment's first launch.
. A third balloon experiment trying to measure cosmic rays called Super Tiger was also preparing, but I didn't get a chance to talk to any of them.
This is where the balloon experiments are assembled and launched.
The facility is really made up of several large hangers in which the experiments prepare for launch. Balloon experiments are totally different beasts. Instead of a nice stable ground telescope or satellite, balloons have to contend with wind pushing their telescope around, making pointing very difficult. The camera and telescope are mounted and built in and around gondolas, which are really sophisticated structures designed to stabilize the telescope as it hangs underneath a massive helium balloon 40 km up in the air. These things have enormous fly wheels that while spinning generate a lot of angular momentum. As the fly wheel spins in one direction, the telescope wants to spin in the other direction to conserve total angular momentum, so left-right (or azimuth) pointing is controlled by spinning the fly wheel up and down. There's lot of cool tidbits and technologies like that involved with balloon experiments. They have similar problems as ground-based projects, but they often have to be far more clever to solve them. Really cool stuff!
Each balloon experiment is inside one of these hangars. The gondolas can be swung out on those giant I-beams so tests can be run outside when necessary.
The gondola behind the primary mirror of BLAST-pol. The camera gets bolted in within the frame. The lead bricks strapped on are there to keep everything balanced before the camera is dropped in.
The gondola for EBEX. The primary and secondary mirrors and the camera itself have not yet been installed. There will also be large sun shades attached as well. The full structure will barely make it out the hangar doors.
I have more photos of both EBEX and BLAST-pol, but I don't want to post anything too detailed, so I encourage you to look them up. They're incredibly sophisticated machines and really interesting projects and are worth learning about. One more photo from the LDB facility, though: one of Mount Erebus. Still 23 miles away, but it looks like you could just walk out a few hundred yards and climb right up it. Funny how white featureless terrain can play tricks on you like that.
A view of Mt Erebus from the LDB facility. Believe it or not, the volcano is still 23 miles away. This thing is really big...
After dinner we decided to do a quick hike up Observation (Obs) Hill. It's right outside of town and offers a pretty spectacular 360 degree panorama. Check out the photos below. Now THAT's what Antarctica is supposed to look like! Simply stunning.
A view of the ice runway from the top of Obs Hill. Soon flights will come in on Pegasus runway, a few more miles out of town since this one will melt through the summer months and eventually be open water until winter hits.
Does that look like Antarctica is supposed to or what? Liz and Brad standing at the top of Obs Hill surveying McMurdo below with Castle Rock and Mt Erebus in the background.
McMurdo from the top of Obs Hill. The blue building is where the galley is, and the dorms are the brown buildings two rows behind that.
You might recall pictures in front of Scott's hut from last year. That's located on the small jutting peninsula in the background.
Another shot of the Transantarctic Mountains backlit by the sun. They're about 45 miles away in this shot.
Me in front of the cross on top of Obs Hill with the ice runway in the background. The cross is a memorial to Robert Falcon Scott's crew. They made it to the south pole nearly 101 years ago, but didn't make it back...