Thursday, 11 October 2007

Skies, Stars & Storms

The start of September bought the last shimmers of light during the night. It would be the finale of the Aurora Australis, and very soon the last sightings of Antarctica's night star constellations, as the daylight starts rapidly taking grasp over the darkness of night. As the nights are quickly drawing to an end, i find myself reminiscing about the luminous starry skies that glistened above us, during our siege of 24 hr darkness. Stars, satellites, planets, galaxies and auroras, all phenomenons visible, yet so far away.

Stars are made up from balls of gases, made incandescent by energy from nuclear reactions deep in their interiors. They come in many sizes and brightnesses, from faint dwarfs to super giants, ranging in temperatures of more than 20,000 degs C in blue-white stars to 3000 degs C in cool red stars. All stars are on an evolutionary pathway, growing and expanding, starting off as clouds of gas and dust, forming into dwarf stars, before entering a main sequence of stars (which our sun is one of them), and then many years later, joining the giants and super giants. Which after that, once they have swollen to their maximum size, outer layers drift off into space, dispersing the surrounding gasses, leaving the remains of the central star called white dwarfs. These white dwarfs have an immense density (a teaspoonful of white dwarf remains would have a mass of thousands of kilograms), ending their particular cycle, slowly cooling off until they fade into oblivion.

Stars appear in different brightnesses, some give out more light than others, and they all lie at vastly differing distances. So a small star that is quite close to us can appear brighter than a phenomenally powerful star that is further away. A stars brightness is measured by magnitude, from 1st magnitude - brightest stars, to 6th magnitude - the faintest. A stars distance is measured in light years - the distance a beam of light travels in one year. Light moves at the fastest known speed in the Universe, 299,792.5 km per second, and on average stars are several light years apart.

Aurora Australis taken on 2nd Sept at 02.10, with Jupiter glowing in the middle right of the photo. Notice how far Jupiter has moved in just 5 days, compared to the below photo.

The Scorpius constellation lies in a rich area of the Milky Way, and is surrounded by star clusters. M7, is a huge cluster of 80 plus stars with a 3rd magnitude rating, and lies 800 light years away.

A starry sky and Aurora Australis over the Laws, taken on the 7th Sept at 02.15.

(click to enlarge)

The Southern Cross (Crux), lies in a dense part of the Milky Way, with a dark nebula known as the Coalsack silhouetted against the starry background, and is estimated to be about 400 light years away.

The Centaurus constellation contains the closest star to the Sun, alpha, which is actually three stars linked by gravity, is 4.3 light years away and is the third brightest star in the sky. Centaurus, is one of the strongest radio sources in the sky, and is associated with the galaxy NGC 5128.

(click to enlarge)

An unfortunate death occurred on the 14th Sept, during a period of relentless strong winds and blowing snow - The death of the Blimp, which was rattled inside the weather haven like a dog with a new toy. On reflection of our loss, here on base a mourning period was shared, fond memories were gathered, and a "Wake" at the expense of the Blimp, was attended.

Inside the Blimp, being pitched by one of Jules's crutches decorated with fairy lights.

However, the mourning was short lived. As the following day celebrations were underway for another 30th B'day here at Halley, and a subsequent two more B'days shortly after. Starting off with a London Tube Station Party on Sat 15th for the, "Not so young anymore", Dr. R. Corbett.

Can u guess the tube stations? i.e. Mark on the far left, is Elephant & Castle station, Dean on the far right with a crook and a wig between his legs is............................?? Shepherds Bush station, and so on.

Another appearance, of an Antarctic ice bar, on the 18th Sept. made for Richards real 30th B'day celebrations, with a dodgy liquor bought from who knows where, along with handmade ice glasses that drew blood on your lips from the minus 35 Degs C temperatures, followed by real Uruguayan cigars.

The following weekend saw Neil the Caslab Chemist, celebrating his elusive possible 39th, 40th, or even 45th B'day, with a Toga & Gods party. Although, most looked as if they'd fallen out of bed and waddled into the lounge with their bed sheets stuck to them.

Richards B'day cake for Neil, with great poignancy towards remembering Neils leg kissing a fur seal - chomp, chomp.

The "Gods" playing pool.

Neil as Atlas.

The last of the Sept B'day celebrations, saw Jules, the electronic engineer, reaching his 29th B'day here in Antarctica, on 28th Sept. Which luckily for him, Halley, was being visited by some very special (or different) visitors, to join in the frolickings.

The new visitors making themselves at home, and preparing for the night ahead.

In amongst all the hype of Birthdays and longer daylight hours, a small window of reprieve from constant blows and poor weather, warranted a refueling session of the Laws.

Me and Andy, the Fixed Plant Technician, refueling one of two, of the 20,000 litre capacity Dunlop flubbers, which fuels the laws building. The far side of the flubbers wall receiving all the pressure from the crushing ice.

A rare day for September, but much appreciated. The winds died, the clouds diminished and a solar Halo with two Sundogs either side shone throughout the day. A phenomenon which only occurs in the Polar regions. But, it was too much to ask for more than a day of "Dingle" weather.

A few days later, a drum raising trip to Windy Caboose, to save the 205 litre empty black drums from being completely buried in the persistent blows, which aid us on our way to and from the Penguin colony there.

Me supervising Jim and Matt digging out a drum.

Familiarity, 30knot plus winds, again. The rope in the photo is tied to a six foot pole, at which the manhole style cover to the melt tank is fastened. Barely one foot visible. A digging session in itself, before we can even fill the melt tank. Although this month the wind officially peaked to 62.8 knots, registering a violent storm, bearing in mind a hurricane starts at 64 knots.

Sept. Statistics:

Max. Temp: -15.2 Degs C on the 27th
Min. Temp: -44.7 Degs C on the 7th
Max. Gust: 62.8 knots
21 days of snow
Total Sunshine Hours 116.5

No comments: