April, 2008....J. Dana Hrubes...updated April 30, 2008 , 1201 GMT

aurora over spt
South Pole Telescope (SPT) back lit by aurora Australis and bathed in moon light  

April is a month when the night skies begin to explode with nature's beautiful light shows, including the diminishing twilight, the emerging aurora Australis, the stars of the southern sky, the meteors, and the polar orbiting satellites reflecting the sun down to the darkened high polar plateau.

South Pole Telescope(SPT) scanning the cosmic microwave background (CMB) in the diminishing twilight

In the early part of the month, civil twilight(sun 0 to 6 degrees below the horizon) gave way to nautical twilight (sun 6-12 degrees below the horizon) and then to astronomical twilight (sun 12-18 degrees below the horizon). By the end of the month, it was quite dark out. The sun will only reach about 23 degrees below the horizon on the June 21st solstice and then begin its return to the horizon. The sun will make its re-appearance on the September 21st equinox.
 its me walking the mile home from work at SPT in the twilight(the station is not visible due to blowing snow)      wind driven flag line in twilight      spt under the full moon and me(photo by keith)     spt in twilight(photo by keith)     I'm climbing up to inspect the huge 33 ft microwave dish (photo by keith)    spt docked for maintenance in the receiver cabin    

Once the skies get dark enough, aurora australis becomes visible. Even though we are at a low point in the 11 year solar activity cycle, we are getting some spectacular aurora this month.
  spt-aurora-1      spt-aurora-2       spt-aurora-3      spt-aurora-4      aurora over neutrino telescope bldg-1        

And then come the iridium flares caused by reflection of the sun from the iridium satellite antennas creating the next brightest object in the sky after the full moon. The iridium flare peaks at a magnitude of -8. See my website, April, 2005, for more information and see May, June, July, 2005 for more iridium photos.       iridium flare over spt    iridium flare over the station (to the right of the southern cross and under alpha/beta centauri)   iridium flare self portrait-1     iridium flare self portrait-2    

I usually walk at least two 2-mile round trips a day to DSL/SPT in the dark and I always enjoy the solitude of the walk and the incredible sights. Even though you are walking in many layers of clothing, heavy boots, and your face almost completely covered in temperatures down to -110 F (-80C) (that is the real temperature, not wind chill), it is one of the most enjoyable walks that a person could take. You might as well be on another planet enjoying sights that no one else can view. It is incredible. I have noticed that Keith, my SPT co-worker, puts earphones on and listens to his i pod during this incredible daily journey. Although I like the solitude that compliments the sights of the night sky, I decided to try listening to music on the way back from the telescope after a long day. As part of the ordeal of putting on all the layers and head gear I put my headphones on under my balaclava, neck gaiter, wool hat and hood and I put the i pod inside of an interior pocket to keep it warm enough to operate. It was an incredibly existential experience, walking the mile back, listening to Steppenwolf, Steve Miller and the Stones under beautifully clear skies at -80 degrees F while gazing up at the Southern Cross, Alpha and Beta Centauri, Jupiter, Sirius, the milky way and so much more over the two-mile-high Antarctic plateau. There are no mind altering substances known to mankind that could produce this unbelievable experience.

I will probably still frequently walk in silence, which is itself an experience which one cannot relate in words, but I think I will start listening to music on some of my trips.

Speaking of my co-worker, Keith; I couldn't have asked for a better choice of a person to spend the long dark winter with working on a complex 20 million dollar telescope under such extreme conditions and isolation. Having a co-worker that you can get along with under such extreme conditions is very important to the overall success of the project. Keith recently received his Doctorate in Astrophysics from the University of Chicago. He also enjoys the incredible skies and the darkness and magic of the high Antarctic plateau in the winter, so it is great to be able to relate to someone that feels that same excitement when going outside in this incredible place and who truly enjoys working on South Pole telescope.  Keith before sunset in March    

Here are a couple of photos of the station in the waning moonlight.      moonlight station-1    moonlight station-2  

I put on a party on April 12th, the 47th anniversary of the first person in space, Yuri Gagarin. This party was part of a world-wide celebration and we represented Antarctica.   http://www.yurisnight.net
 Yuri's night party group      toast to Yuri    

We also had a huge band gig with four bands and some solo acts called Polestock 2008. I am the drummer in my band that we called "retardis" this time around.

my band-"retardis"    close-up of part of the band(by S. Richter)     drummer     my band photo
(by S. Richter)    band-1   band-2  

May: The darkness continues!

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)