Week Two

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Now that I’ve been here two weeks, I’ve really come to appreciate the luxury of time off on Sundays. Today I caught up on a week’s worth of sleep, went out to the telescope for two hours to show it off to the rest of the station for our “MAPO Open House,” and lounged around. Tonight we are having another bad movie night, a time-honored South Pole tradition. Last Sunday we saw “The Room” and tonight the agenda includes “Death Race 2000.” On Wednesday our group hosted a screening of “Spice World,” the 1997 movie about The Spice Girls. This is another group tradition, because one proposed name for the Keck Array was SPICE (the South Pole Inflationary Cosmology Experiment). Furthermore, since Keck has five receivers and there are five members of the Spice Girls, each receiver has a Spice Girls nickname. Much to my amusement, this means that everyone in our group – including the senior professors – can rattle off the names of all five Spice Girls at a moment’s notice. The movie is quite ridiculous, and quite enjoyable if one goes into a screening ready to make fun of everything. (The movie collection here is actually excellent; it includes everything from classics like Casablanca and Hitchcock to recent blockbusters like the Hunger Games movies. TV shows are well-represented too. I could do nothing but watch movies and TV for my entire deployment, and I still wouldn’t get through everything.)

Flyer on the rec board for our not-to-be-missed event.

Flyer on the rec board for our not-to-be-missed event.

On the work front, the most exciting development is that Kirit and Abby arrived on Monday! They have settled in well and we’ve been able to start some of the work that requires a larger team of people, like taking the forebaffles off of the telescope receivers. (Normally we have the forebaffles on while taking data to block out light from other sources, like the Sun and the ground.) Unfortunately, we got word from Caltech that the focal planes have been delayed again, so we haven’t yet taken the next step of removing receivers from the mount. There is still hope that they might arrive before Christmas, but we’re starting to prepare for the possibility that they won’t get here until January. I will be gone by then, but hopefully I’ll still get to help with the receiver prep leading up to their arrival.

The tops of the five Keck receivers protruding from the mount, with the forebaffles removed.

The tops of the five Keck receivers protruding from the mount, with the forebaffles removed.

In lieu of removing telescope receivers, we have been keeping busy with other tasks to improve the telescope’s operation and testing out equipment that won’t be needed until later in the season. One thing that I helped with is building a forebaffle for our star camera. This is a small optical telescope that shares the mount with our five CMB receivers. We use it to calibrate exactly where the telescope is pointing – by telling the telescope to point at a bright star and then adjusting the star camera so that the star is in exactly the center of the field, we can correct for any small position errors. Such errors tend to build up over time, since the mount isn’t perfect and the telescope therefore doesn’t always move exactly where we tell it to move. In the summertime the sky is bright, so we were having a hard time seeing enough stars due to glare from the sun and reflections off of the very shiny CMB forebaffles. Our solution is basically a hollow cardboard tube with some foam on the end that gets strapped on top of the star camera to block out some of this extraneous light, but it works well – in a new star pointing test run, we were able to see many more stars than before.

Star camera forebaffle -- simple scrounged cardboard and foam, but it worked well!

Star camera forebaffle — simple scrounged materials, but it worked well!

We have also been helping out with the BICEP3 assembly. The BICEP3 team finally got all of their urgently-needed cargo this week, so things are in full swing over in DSL. Current tasks include assembling the groundshield (which will block heat from the ground, so that it doesn’t interfere with measurements of the sky), getting the mount working properly with the telescope control software so that will point in the correct direction, and putting together the BICEP3 telescope receiver. I spent two afternoons helping put together various hardware pieces: a series of precisely-spaced bolts for the BICEP3 groundshield and a cart for moving the BICEP3 cryostat around the lab. Putting things together isn’t particularly creative work, but I find it very satisfying to be able to see that my efforts have produced something tangible. The BICEP3 team has been grateful for the extra help, as they are a bit behind on their assembly schedule – but not so far behind that anyone is panicking yet.

One of the eighty or so groundshield bolts. The brass nuts had to be precisely spaced to ensure a perfect fit.

Assembled cart with the lower part of the BICEP3 cryostat in place on top.Top: One of the eighty or so groundshield bolts. The brass nuts had to be precisely spaced to ensure a perfect fit. Bottom: Assembled cart with the lower part of the BICEP3 cryostat in place on top.

On the non-work front, I learned to drive a snowmobile this week! Although our group’s telescopes are close enough to the main station that snowmobile use generally isn’t necessary, driving one is quite fun. The station keeps a number of snowmobiles on hand, mostly for people who need to spend a lot of time traveling from one building to another, or for hauling cargo back and forth. MAPO has a dedicated snowmobile, which mostly gets used by our machinist but is available to us too. I got to drive it to DSL and back to transport some heavy equipment. I also drove a second snowmobile from DSL back to the main station to transport four people to dinner. Fuel is precious down here because it is difficult to bring in, so recreational snowmobile use is discouraged.

Snowmobile with cargo sled -- useful for giving up to six extra people (or lots of boxes) a ride.

Snowmobile with cargo sled — useful for giving up to six extra people (or lots of boxes) a ride.

That’s all for now – more soon!

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