Tuesday, July 01, 2008

More auroras!!

Auroras and the Milky Way galaxy over McMurdo

After figuring out some stuff with my first successful aurora excursion and the LIDAR, I had another chance to go out and try to photograph auroras. I'm not sure if I did better as a photographer or if they were just that much more spectacular. Probably, a little of both. I figured out how to use the mirror lock and set a self timer to get rid of some of the shake. Since I took these, I figured out I need to also remove my camera strap because the wind is blowing it. I also might use a heavier tripod. Someone else suggested using a bungee cord to keep the tripod stable. I'll probably give all those suggestions a try.

Red auroras!

Technical camera nonsense aside, these auroras were great. They might be the best I've seen. It was certainly the first time I had ever seen a hint of red auroras. I thought I saw them when I was out, but wasn't sure until I saw my pictures. Our Alaskan friends regularly remind us that they aren't as good as theirs and they may be right, but these are good enough for me. Auroras apparently fall in 'rings' around certain areas. I guess Anchorage is directly under a ring while we are to the side of one. If you are under the ring, you can get really great auroras. If you aren't under the ring, you may or may not get great ones. Pictures of the rings are in the top left corner of the Geophysical Institute's page.

Auroras as they looked to the human eye.

I included the last picture in this blog for a couple reasons. First, it is a cool picture. Second, it has some red auroras. Third, you can see the steam of Mt. Erebus illuminated by the lava lake below on the right of the picture. Fourth, I like it and hope you do too.

"I like it a lot" as Shuttle Jami would say it.

Monday, June 30, 2008


The LIDAR fires from Phase Two of Crary.

LIght Detection And Ranging is commonly known as LIDAR. It is used scan the lower atmosphere for solid particles and the upper atmosphere for chemicals. It shoots a laser at the sky and the reflected light is analyzed to figure out what the laser is looking at.

Since 1990, an Italian-American group has been using a LIDAR system on base to observe Polar Stratospheric Clouds (PSC), which somehow correlate to the quality of the ozone layer that keeps us from getting burnt to a crisp by the same rays that create those lovely auroras. Each day that the sky is clear the research associate, B-Nelson, fires the LIDAR. This past Saturday, I got to see it. I had no idea the laser would be so visible. The beam is only one to two inches in diameter. When it is fired, B-Nelson lets it run for fifteen minutes to take three different observations and then sends the data off to those who want to know.

The LIDAR's end point in the sky.

Personally, I'm not so sure it is collecting information. When B-Nelson sets off the LIDAR, he puts signs up everywhere to make sure no one gets near where it is firing. If someone did, they could be blinded and burned by the beam. Sure, you could say that any beam that is strong enough to reach the atmosphere has to be strong enough to damage a human. I'm not buying it. Think about it. A human will block all the sun's rays (a shadow). The ozone only blocks part of them (we still get sun). If this LIDAR system can damage a human, just think what it could do a thin layer of gas. I think they are burning a hole in the ozone with this fancy laser. CFCs are all a lie. Bring back the styrofoam that McDonald's served everything in. Using paper wrappers is accelerating the destruction of the world's forests. This message has been brought to you by an Onion inspired news source.

The chalet deck with Jupiter above the railing.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The golf ball in the aurora pictures

The golf ball.

A few people asked what the giant golf ball was in the last post. Over the summer, my boss arranged a tour for us. Unfortunately, I don't remember too many details. It is NASA's McMurdo Ground Station and run by Honeywell. It is the world's farthest South satellite tracking station. Combined with tracking stations scattered around the world, it tracks satellites that are in polar orbits approximately 400 miles above the continent. At that height, those satellites should complete an orbit every 90 minutes. (Mary K, can you confirm that?)

A 10m satellite dish is inside the golf ball.

Inside the golf ball is a 10 meter satellite dish. It automatically moves around to catch satellites when they come into view. It moves a lot quicker than you might expect. When the dish starts tracking a satellite, it will follow it for about fifteen minutes until it disappears from view.

My boss, Atlas, posing with the UpRight.

This UpRight is what Atlas really used to hold the world up. That Greek myth isn't true. However, it can also be used to complete maintenance work on the satellite. If you look carefully you can see orange lines on the floor outside the tires. That marks where the UpRight should be parked when it isn't in use. Once when it wasn't parked there, the satellite started tracking and crashed into it. I can't imagine the repairs were cheap.

Nik explains things that I have long forgotten.

The computers that work with the satellite dish are housed in the green building in in the first photo. Lots of systems. Lots of computers. Lots of automation.

A sight for sore eyes.

I took this photo from the golf ball on the day of the tour. It seems like so long ago that base looked like that. I'm not sure I'll get to see it like that again. I am tentatively leaving just two weeks after the first sunrise.

A walk down memory lane.

This last photo is a throw back to my high school years in Danville, PA. Two different times, I took off on a one week biology 'camp.' It was held at Wallops Island, VA. I remember there being some NASA stuff going on, but we didn't see get involved with it. Apparently, it is the headquarters for the project that uses the golf ball down here. Small world.


Aurora's over RaySat.

My hunt to photograph auroras started in early April when it first started getting dark. I only went out a few times, but I did see some great auroras. Unfortunately, when I came back from those walks it was clear I didn't know how to use my camera. All of my pictures were black. After a few frustrating attempts at trying to figure out my cold metal camera with frozen fingers while auroras were going on, I took the time to figure out what I needed to do inside where it was warm. I thought I was all set to go. Then, I sprained my ankle so I couldn't hike and auroras are usually washed out by the town lights so it appeared I'd be out of luck for a while.

This photo is too underexposed to show a good aurora, but this is the closest I got to what they really look like to the human eye.

This photo is also part of the learning process. The auroras look neat, but town looks like it was just zapped by aliens.

About six weeks ago, I was cleared to start hiking again. I was a little tentative to get out again. When I finally did, no auroras. This past month I only saw starts on TWO day. Not two hiking days, two total days. We've been pretty clouded in. On Friday, that cloud cover finally broke and was planning to go for a hike. Additionally, Antz sent out an e-mail letting us know that it was also a good aurora day. Auroras can be forecast. I'm not entirely sure how, but this is the page for forecasts: http://www.gedds.alaska.edu/AuroraForecast/

Auroras over Crater Hill.

I hiked the Hut Ridge trail and before we got very far along at all, the sky behind us was lit up. Beautiful.

Me, unable to stay still for twenty seconds. Not a surprise.