First Two Workdays

Written December 2, 2014

Here is another update! My first two days of work have gone well. Grant and I are still the entire Keck Array workforce, so we’ve been hanging out in MAPO with only occasional visits from BICEP3 people. We heard from our team members still in the US that the Keck telescope focal planes will be slightly delayed leaving, so Grant and I have another few days to take it easy before we have to start prepping seriously for their arrival. Mostly that has meant that I’ve gotten to learn how to operate Keck while it is in data-taking mode, which is pretty fun. The observing schedule is mostly automated, but I got to see how the telescope control computers work and play around with it a bit. We have also been testing various pieces of equipment that haven’t been used since last year and unpacking and organizing the lab in preparation for the work to come.

The Keck control station, where we monitor all of the telescope systems.

The Keck control station, where we monitor all of the telescope systems.

Today we also played host to a BBC film crew, which slightly disrupted our workflow. They are making a documentary about the research our group does and wanted to get footage of real science. Mostly this meant that they were doing silly things like filming my advisor John walking up the stairs onto the roof (where the most impressive view of the telescope is), over and over – and today was the windiest day we’ve had so far (the windchill reached -60F!), so that can’t have been the most fun. They also wanted to interview John in front of the telescope, so Grant and I turned it around to point at the wrong part of the sky so that its most photogenic side could be facing forward. Grant and I apparently weren’t doing photogenic enough science to make the cut, so we won’t be appearing in the special (unless they come back and film us tomorrow), but I’m excited to see how it turns out nonetheless. I have a feeling that all of the epic shots of John “science-ing” will make me completely crack up laughing.

Film crew getting ready to head outside into the wind and cold.

The film crew getting ready to head outside into the wind and cold.

In non-work news, I got a tour of the traverse facilities yesterday evening. The traverse is a series of specially-modified tractors that travel hundreds of miles overland from the coast to the south pole to bring us items that are too heavy to fly in (mostly fuel to heat and operate the station). The tractors all have tank-style treads (rather than wheels) for easier operation in the snow. It takes about three weeks to make the journey, one way. The traverse is operated by a crew of ten people, who live in shipping container-style buildings on skies that are dragged by the tractors. (The living facilities are small but surprisingly nice – the kitchen module is equipped with running water courtesy of a snow-melting device and they have fewer water restrictions than we do on station.) The tractors also haul what are essentially huge plastic sleds with bags of fuel piled on top of them and other cargo sleds and containers, so when everything is hooked together the traverse forms a train that can spread out over as much as a mile. A separate tractor with a special sensor attached in front drives ahead of the main train to scout the route for crevasses. If they find any, they have to stop and blow them up (yes, with explosives) so that the sides get knocked together and the traverse can safely pass over. The crew is only in town for a few days before they start their three-week trip back to the coast, so I’m glad that I was able to get out there to see everything.

IMG_1425 IMG_1429 IMG_1449 From top to bottom: 1) The leading traverse tractor, equipped with a radar probe to search for hidden crevasses. 2) The exterior of one of the container modules and two of the tractors. 3) Inside the kitchen module. 4) The plastic “bladders” used to transport fuel. These have been emptied into the station storage tanks and then partially refilled with air to prevent the bladders from creasing, freezing, and developing leaks on the return trip to the coast.

That’s everything major to report. In minor news, the food continues to be good and I finally made it out to the building where BICEP3 is being installed. (It looks pretty cool.) I watched more Stargate SG-1 tonight and that continues to be good as well.

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