March, 2004....J. Dana Hrubes...updated March 31, 2004 , 0315 GMT

The silhouette of the SETI telescope tower is seen to the right as the sun sets at the South Pole for six months

March at the Pole - the sun sets for 6 months

The weather was very windy with blowing snow and poor visibility from about the last flight on February 15th until about March 19th. Temperatures have almost reached -90 F already. Drifting was heavy and I spend much time digging out the back door of the Cusp lab on the first floor of skylab and the entrance to the VLF beacon transmitter building about a mile out in the dark sector.    back door of the cusp lab after digging out     snow drifted door to the VLF transmitter building       ARO seen through the wind-blown snow        SETI telescope tower and AASTO building     dome and elevated station from the dark sector          

The whole station is now criss-crossed with flags lines so that we can find our way to our destinations, some over a mile away, when darkness and whiteout conditions prevail.    flagline from ARO to the SETI telescope       flagline from the dark sector to the dome    flagline crossing the skiway     

Now that the temperatures are dropping and will eventually drop below -100 F most motorized vehicles are unavailable. Walking is the way to get around and although it it beautiful and fantastic to walk outside in the darkness, it will get very frequently extremely difficult to walk a mile or so in temperatures near -100 F, with high winds and on a sastrugi covered surface while your goggles are completely frosted over. That is the challenge.  If you want to carry something to your destination you can man haul a sled.  frosted face after a one mile walk back from the VLF beacon transmitter building        hauling a sled back from the dark sector     

The atmosphere at the South Pole has an extremely strong inversion layer, particularly in the winter. In a typical air mass the temperature of the air drops somewhere around 5 degrees F for every 1000 feet of elevation, but at the Pole the temperature in the winter is actually warmer as you rise in elevation. This creates some unusual phenomena.  For example, when warm exhaust exits our power plant stack it rises just for a moment and then it immediately drops to the ice surface and hugs the surface for miles.    power plant exhaust    exhaust dropping to the ice surface     power plant exhaust seen from dark sector   

After seeing the sun rotate around us for the past 6 months, it finally set March 21. We will not see the sun again for 6 months. The good part is that we will enjoy a constant light show of the stars that are visible from the Southern Hemisphere , we will view the auroras that will appear daily, we will experience the periodic passing of sun illuminated satellites and we will see the moon for two weeks each month, all of this weather permitting, of course.     the dome and skylab several days before sunset     sun setting through the power plant exhaust   

The sunset was not as spectacular as it could have been due to the stubborn presence of clouds and ice fog from horizon to about 5 to 10 degrees above the horizon. There were, however, several short windows of opportunity to see some beautiful colors and the horizon did clear several days after sunset.    sun behind the station on March 18          pink skies behind the dome and elevated station          silhouette of the station          sunset over ARO    
Panorama looking grid north at the fuel arch escape igloo, the Atmospheric Research Observatory (ARO) and the SETI telescope (scroll to the right to see the entire view)

I took a few photos of my room in upper berthing. It is small but comfortable.  I have a small desk for my laptop, shelves, a small bed and in the back you can see the freezer door to the outside. I also have a flat panel monitor over my bed hooked to the laptop so I can watch DVD movies.    my room         my room     my room without camera flash      inside the dome, upper berthing on the right      outside of upper berthing showing freezer doors of each room    

One final photograph showing that there is still plenty of light 9 days after sunset. It will get gradually darker over the next two weeks until it finally gets completely dark by mid April.     station on March 30   

NEXT MONTH:   The appearance of stars, auroras, and satellites

       A Real-Time Photo of South Pole Station as Seen from the ARO Building (live when satellite is up)

           A Comprehensive South Pole Web Site by Bill Spindler

          Winterover Web Pages (Bill Spindler's List)