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|THE SOUTH POLE EXPERIENCE
At the Geographic South Pole
In this historic day of unregistered date I planted the Uruguayan flag
at the South Pole. Well, it was sometime in December, 1995. The flag was
lent to me by my friend, Emilio, with the prerequisite of bringing it back.
The Station Master was kind enough to lend me the flag pole, and let the
flag stay there for a whole day. It wasn't a particularly clear day, but
you can see the AST/RO building and the Martin Pommeranz Observatory
in the background over my left shoulder.
The Dark Sector
The Dark Sector gets its name not from a George Lucas' movie, but from
the fact that no extraneous photons (visual, infrared or radio) are allowed
there. It is located at approximately 800 meters from the South Pole. From
left to right, you can see the AMANDA drilling site, the blue building
which houses the Pommeranz Observatory , the COBRA telescope (or
better the wooden construction that shields it from radiation coming from
the ground), the SPIREX telescope on top of its tower, and the AST/RO building
and telescope. The deep blue of the sky is real, although enhanced by my
The AST/RO building
Ugly but practical, the AST/RO building houses all the paraphernalia
needed to run a modern submillimeter observatory, including, of course,
the telescope itself which happens to be under its hood (called the ``baby
baggy cover'' in AST/RO lingua). The building is elevated over the ground
level to avoid being buried by drifting snow during the winter.
The PYTHON experiment
Python is (or better, used to be) the cosmic microwave background experiment
at the South Pole. The Python telescope performed measurements of the CMBR
anisotropies with unprecedented sensitivity, and is now being replaced
by a larger one: Viper. Notice the two ``Sun-dogs'' on each side of the
Sun. They are caused by light refraction on ice crystals floating in the
atmosphere. This is one of my favorite shots. I like this sort of ``2001:
A Space Odyssey'' look.
The ceremonial South Pole
The place where all the VIPs are taken. This is sort of an all-too-classical
shot, but one can't be innovative all the time. In the background, to the
left, you can see the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station dome. It is half-buried
in the snow and houses the main buildings of the base, including the dormitories
of the winter-over crew. Farther away, in the right background, is the
summer camp, where most people are housed in tents during the summer months.
Sun dogs at the pole
This almost martian shot of the pole was taken through the ski goggles,
to show the second ``sun'' near the horizon. In a clear day with no wind,
after using the ski goggles for a while you can almost imagine that you're
really in a sunny sandy beach. The bright spec next to the Sun could be
a UFO, but most probably is a ghost reflection in the goggle.
Sunset at the pole
The ceremonial South Pole marker casts a lonely long shadow while the
Sun sets in the horizon. Well, this is an impossible shot, unless I stayed
the whole winter at the South Pole (the base closes before the Sun actually
sets), which, believe me, I didn't. What this is, in reality, is another
shot of the same Sun-dog from the previous picture.
A swiftly tilting planet
Impervious to the dangers of changing our world's rotation axis Mathias
Rumitz, AST/RO's 1997 winter-over, takes matters in its own hands to show
in detail the new 1996 South Pole marker, shortly after its annual repositioning.
To the right of Matt's left shoulder we can see a string of older markers,
and the AST/RO building in the background. The sign shows excerpts from
the diaries of Roald Amundsen and Robert Scott, and the corresponding dates
of discovery. As can be read in the sign, the altitude of the South Pole
is 9,301 feet, although the atmospheric pressure (and the corresponding
physiological altitude) is closer to 11,000 feet.
Larger than life
Antony Stark, AST/RO project Principal Investigator and designer, poses
next to the uruguayan flag on top of the AST/RO building. The halo over
his head is real, albeit it is not a signal of godliness. This rainbow
parallel to the horizon is another form of Sun-dog. The tiny specs that
flash while catching the Sun's light next to it are particles of ``diamond
dust'', ice crystals condensed out of the atmosphere and blown by the wind.
Ingalls... James Ingalls
Looking like out of a James Bond movie, Jim Ingalls, one of AST/RO's
grad students, blocks the Sun allowing me to get yet-another-shot of polar
And he can play
Jim delights the audience playing spanish guitar during one of the
many South Pole parties. Social and cultural activities are important at
the station, since `` man does not live by bread alone ''.