Ted's Boomerang 2002 Antarctic Web Log

Frequently Asked Questions

Current Mission Status: We Have Landed!

  • View all of the tracks of balloons launched so far this season at the N.S.B.F. website here. This is real-time data from the onboard GPS receivers.
  • If you have a computer that can view proprietary Micro$oft Windoze media formats (I don't), you can view a webcam broadcast of Willie Field here.
  • Here is some Antarctic news and weather from our newspaper, the Antarctic Sun.

Sonnet from the Ice

November 14, 2002 09:09 (NZ)

This is a sonnet written by Barth Netterfield, one of our collaborators from the University of Toronto. I like it, so I decided to post it...
Inside a barn ten thousand miles away
From those we love, we serve a mindless thing.
And to this master we have made, we bring
Our time, our thoughts, our dreams, and here we stay
half burried in the snow until the day
we send our lifeless child to make a ring
about this lifeless land where no birds sing
returning here, our service to repay.

What secrets do we seek? What mystries hid
beneath the veil of time? What treasure could
this sacrifice explain? How can we rid
the fear that we've not chosen as we should?

Is it for truth that we all here do strive,
and does creation's story lead our lives?

Detector Testing, Day 2

November 13, 2002 21:52 (NZ)

Today was filled with more tests of our detectors. Tom and Bill conducted most of the tests today, while I checked out the data from yesterday. So far it looks like all 16 detectors are alive and working, but we'll know more in a few days. The weather has been somewhat bad due to a storm moving in from the North. We are trying to finish as much testing as possible so that when the weather improves, we can move the gondola outside and calibrate some of its sensors. Right now, the cryostat is sitting on the floor and not mounted to the gondola. This lets us test the detector system and the gondola separately in parallel. Unfortunately, the electronics we use to acquire data for both sorts of testing is bolted to the gondola. This means that when the gondola goes outside for testing, we cannot do any detector testing. Fortunately we only need a few more days of detector testing, and there is plenty of bad weather to keep the gondola inside...

Detector Testing

November 12, 2002 22:56 (NZ)

Today we spent most of the day doing some tests to make sure that our detectors are working properly. One of the things we do is place objects of different temperatures in front of the window of our cryostat (the window is on the bottom of the cryostat). The hotter the object, the more optical power we expect to see. By comparing our observations to what we expect, we can determine some properties of our optics. We can also get a handle on how sensitive our detectors are, and what settings to use with our electronics during the flight. As part of our testing, we condensed about 10 liters of liquid oxygen, which is always fun :-)

The weather has picked up a little this evening, and the weather forecast indicates that another storm is moving into the area. Bill is on duty tonight at the barn as the "babysitter" for the mechanical pump that is pumping on the liquid helium tank. Hopefully the storm will not be bad, and the rest of us will be able to get back out to the barn tomorrow. If not, they have lots of emergency rations out there, so Bill will be ok...

Night Watch

November 11, 2002 21:04 (NZ)

Today our cryostat is fully cooled down! The temperature of the detectors is around 0.275K. Yesterday, Silvia and Francesco started pumping out the helium vapor above the liquid in the helium tank. This causes the liquid helium to evaporate faster, and this evaporation cools the tank down to 2K. Today, we ran the final stage of the cooling process, which is a helium-3 refrigerator. This refrigerator can keep the detectors cold for about 2 weeks, which is around the average duration of a balloon flight. We are letting the system stabilize overnight, and we will start testing the detectors in the morning.

Today we also opened the large door on the barn in order to test the star camera. During flight, this camera will find a bright star against the dimmer sky and track the star as the gondola moves. Since the camera is attached in a known way to the gondola, the motion of the camera during flight indirectly tells us about the motion of the gondola with respect to the star. Today the camera was tested to see if could track a dark object against a light background, and this test was successful. This will be important later when we do some calibration tests of the telescope. These tests involve flying a dark microwave "source" from a small blimp that is tethered at an altitude of about a kilometer. The telescope will scan back and forth and map out the source, and the star camera will be used to track the position of the telescope with respect to the source.

Since we started pumping on the helium bath yesterday, we have entered the phase of our preparations where someone must be in the barn at all times. The reason for this is the following: if the pump that is pumping on the tank were to fail, there is a chance that some air could leak back into the (very cold) helium tank and freeze. This would plug up the tubing with ice, and cause the gas pressure in the tank to increase. Eventually we would end up with a bomb... To be on the safe side, until the flight someone will always spend the night at the barn to monitor the pump. Tonight it's my turn... Fortunately they have nice cots and sleeping bags out here.


November 10, 2002 21:15 (NZ)

After work, Bill, Carrie and I decided to ski/jog at least part of the way back to McMurdo from Willy Field. We left about 30 minutes before the shuttle was scheduled to arrive at Willy Field, and the shuttle picked us up on the way back in to town. Bill set off jogging, while Carrie and I worked on improving our skiing technique. Obviously it's going to need much more work, as Bill made it much further on foot than we did on skis...

Observation Hill

November 10, 2002 14:06 (NZ)

This morning I had a few hours off, so I decided to walk to the top of "Observation Hill", which is a mound of volcanic rock that overlooks the town. It was a beautiful morning with temperatures around 10F and a light wind. After a short walk to the top, I was rewarded with views of the base, the Ross ice shelf, Mt. Erebus, and Willy Field. McMurdo is located on the South Western tip of Ross Island (see maps below). Mt. Erebus is to the North at the center of Ross Island. To the West, there is a channel that is currently filled with sea ice which will start to melt in about a month. To the South-East of Ross Island is the huge expanse of the Ross Ice Shelf. This is an amazing place...

Liquid Helium

November 09, 2002 23:12 (NZ)

Today Silvia and Francesco transferred 100 liters of liquid helium from the 3000 gallon storage tank outside into a smaller transfer dewar and then into the cryostat. The detectors are now cooled to 4K. The detectors should be at their final temperature of 0.3K by Monday evening. After that, we'll spend about a week doing some tests to make sure that the detectors are ok before we hoist the cryostat up and mount it into the balloon gondola. Carrie, Barth and Enzo spent part of the day testing the light shielding on the star camera. Tom worked on temperature control circuitry and I worked on some programming related to the flight. It's been decided that tomorrow most of us will stay in town for brunch and go to work later in the morning. If the weather is nice, I might try to check out observation hill...

Back to the Base

November 08, 2002 13:51 (NZ)

The weather conditions lightened up enough to allow us to leave Willy Field and get back to McMurdo. Since it is only one O'clock, I've set up my laptop in one of the science buildings at McMurdo that has a great lounge with network connections. This way I can continue to work on my computer programming tasks. John left this morning for a few days to go to the South Pole (where he is involved with another experiment). His plane apparently made it out before the storm. Before we left the barn, Silvia added more liquid nitrogen to the cryostat so that it would not run out before we can get back out to Willy Field.

Condition 1

November 08, 2002 10:57 (NZ)

The weather out at Willy Field has turned to condition 1, which is the worst weather rating. We have visibilities less than 50 feet and 40mph sustained winds with snow. Some of us took a brief break from work to go outside and experience the "real" Antarctic weather. During condition 1, we are not allowed to go outside alone, and all vehicle travel is prohibited. Hopefully things will clear up by tonight, or else we'll be here for a while...

Another Day

November 07, 2002 21:42 (NZ)

Today there was once again gradual progress on several fronts. After pumping out the cryostat all day, Silvia and Francesco transferred liquid nitrogen into the system tonight. This will pre-cool the liquid helium tank (and the detectors) to 77K. The outer tank (which is always kept at 77K) was also filled. The gondola has all of its major electronics and sensors installed, and will soon be taken outside the barn in order to calibrate the differential GPS antenna. In the mean time, Carrie has been working on testing the star tracking camera. This camera will search for stars (some which can be seen at 120,000 feet) and "lock on" to them. As the telescope sweeps back and forth, the camera will remain pointed at the star, providing us with information about where the telescope is looking. Together with the telescope's gyroscopes and differential GPS, we will hopefully always have a good idea of where we are looking.

A small storm has moved in tonight bringing with it light winds and snow. The high today was a balmy 15-20F.

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