Rothera Diary — May 2009
Say Goodbye to the Sun
Welcome everyone to the month of May at Rothera Research Station.
My name is Andy Webster and I am the Communications Manager here on station. We employ virtually the whole spectrum of communications equipment down here, from High Frequency radio through to satellite phones and computer networks. Over the summer, all this links the bases, field parties, ships and aircraft together allowing BAS to perform its crucial science mission all over the world’s most hostile continent. Rothera is a vital hub in this operation and it’s my job to look after all the communications and computing equipment on station that allows this to happen. I also print out the newspaper every morning.
Looking back, the month of May has had rather a lot of stuff packed into it — it’s quite a task but I shall do my best to give you a glimpse into our lives as we descend into winter…
Early May saw the last two sets of the winter trips out across Adelaide Island making the most of the sun while she still graced us with her rays. There was a rapidly diminishing amount of daylight to work with and we didn’t see the fine spell of weather that some of the earlier trips enjoyed. Despite this, plenty of essential winter training was accomplished, mountains were climbed, crevasses explored and lie-up was limited to just a few days for each field party. Other than the continuous melting of snow, my spell in the tent with Ian was mainly centred on a rather dubious game of scrabble where we discovered (or at least began to suspect) yet another of the ‘leaving gifts’ left for us by the departing personnel back in March — over the course of the game it became clear that there was a seriously less-than-optimal distribution of letters amongst the set… Preparedness is the name of the game however and Ian had left nothing to chance in packing for the hostile conditions of Antarctica. The spare scrabble letter set was quickly located, disaster averted and the rescue party stood down.
We’ve seen some magnificent sights in the sky this month. This month has been a real treat for the photographers on base as the numerous colourful sunrises are conveniently timed around our mid-morning tea break (smoko). The most remarkable display I can recall this month is probably this fine halo created around the sun one morning, just after smoko. Halos are formed much like rainbows but, instead of rain, the light from the Sun is refracted through ice crystals in the very high cirrus clouds that you can see in the photograph.
The sky’s beauty hasn’t been limited to the few hours of daylight either. A week of particularly calm weather also gave us a clear night and Mike and I grabbed the opportunity to try our hand at some night photography. Far away from the bright lights of the rest of the world, we can look up to the night sky unhindered by light pollution — a sky full of stars that cannot be seen from our native Northern Hemisphere. Our own lights have relatively little effect and after walking just 100 yards away from base the Milky Way can clearly be seen above us. Moving further up the hill and over to the other side of the Point allows your eyes to better adjust to the darkness and, out of the wind, the only sounds are of the water lapping against the rocky shore below.
Capturing images of this magical scene is somewhat less than straightforward however and Mike and I proceeded to experiment with various camera settings, calculating the exposures required to produce satisfactory ‘star trail’ pictures and also trying to capture still shots of the fascinating sky above us without incurring too much noise from high sensitivity settings. Star trail photos depict the movement of the night sky as the Earth revolves around its axis and involve leaving the camera’s shutter open for long periods of time to allow the stars’ movement to become apparent.
So, there you have the month of May at Rothera. I hope my brief account has been interesting and, as you all enjoy the start of summer and prepare to light the BBQs, perhaps you might spare a thought in our direction as those of us on the southernmost continent head further into winter…