Even more penguin, SPIDER glamour shots, and the COSI SPB launch

Uncle John the penguin stayed out at LDB basically all day when he was here, so I got more footage to share with you all. These capture his experience with the “dance floor” a wooden floor in the snow where payloads sometimes go at LDB to do tests. It was really fun to watch him try to puzzle out what this thing was. In the first video, he finally gathers up his courage and tries to dive onto it. He quickly decides against staying, but in the second video, he sticks around a little longer.

Today we had the second balloon launch of the season. The COSI experiment was launched on a super pressure balloon- a model still being tested that should allow it to fly for 100 days. The road to LDB closed shortly before I tried to head out, so I watched from town on Ob Hill. A fog was mostly covering LDB up until very shortly before launch, so we saw the balloon rise out of the fog very suddenly and smoothly carry the payload away. We could see it fully inflated later in the day through binoculars. Pretty spectacular!

Jon got an incredible video out at LDB of the balloon eclipsing the sun as it was released.

That makes it two launches down and one to go. We hear there might be good weather coming our way on Thursday… We will be ready for it! We’re fully assembled and ready to go to space!


Christmas, nearly finished SPIDER, and MORE PENGUIN

As I was uploading photos to make a perfectly mundane penguin-less blog post, Ziggy ran into the high bay proclaiming the arrival of an adelie at LDB. Of course, all work immediately stopped, and we ran outside to meet him. This blog post can’t be chronological now, because penguins must come before all else. Meet Uncle John the penguin!

Edit: now with video!

This past week, we’ve seen a lot of snow and wind, so there have been no opportunities for balloon launching and few opportunities to get SPIDER outside. Going outside is necessary so we can calibrate our absolute pointing sensors and make sure that our solar panels and antenna communications work. It’s just about all we have left to do, and hopefully will happen today!

In the mean time, we’ve gone out on our front porch a couple of times, and wrapped everything up to be sun-proof.

This week we also got a Christmas party with several Santas and a fantastic Christmas feast. We also did a little decorating ourselves to make the high bay more festive.

We’re feeling very good with where our experiment stands now, and are just hoping that the weather cooperates and allows us to launch very soon. We are all tired from a long season and some hard days of work, but very proud of the experiment we’ve put together, and very excited for it to get up there and do some great science. Here’s hoping for a launch early this week!

And of course, to end, here are some scenic photos from a run I took recently up Arrival Heights.

More penguin, more scenery, and ANITA’s balloon launch!

The past several days have been BUSY. We started with Sunday, during which we filled our 1200 L liquid helium tank to the brim. During that somewhat long process, we were forced to take a break when we learned that our penguin friend had decided to return to LDB. Naturally, everyone dropped what they were doing to go take pictures, and I was happily able to get some better footage (including penguin sounds!) than I got the day before.

Aside from taking pictures of penguins, we’ve been productive in a lot of other ways. On one of my morning rides in, when we dropped off a flight crew at their plane, they asked if I wanted to get a tour of the plane. I got to sit in the pilot’s chair, which was really cool.

In SPIDER land, we’ve been scanning our telescope and got our sunshields installed. Tonight, we’ll finish getting all of our solar panels installed, and then we’ll be just about fully integrated.

Yesterday, we were visited by a group of congressmen from the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. The group also included the director of the NSF and several NASA people. I had a brief conversation with Darrell Issa and a nice chat with staffers. Lamar Smith liked Natalie’s Texas flag and one of the California reps wanted his picture taken with Ed and the California flag. Everyone was taking pictures of SPIDER and asking questions. It was a nice change of pace to have people of influence take a tour and express interest in what we’re doing!

Interlude for pictures of the scenery.

Finally, today we witnessed our first balloon launch of the season out at LDB. ANITA, an experiment that detects interactions of incredibly high energy neutrinos with the Antarctic ice, was the first to go up. The launch went very smoothly, and was a treat to finally get to see!

Watching the balloon launch was very exciting, but thinking about our turn, watching our baby float away like that– SPIDER launch day is going to be very nerve-wracking. Day by day, we get closer to launch ready, though! Below is a recent video of scanning. In a few days, her lens caps will be removed, and she’ll be doing this scan at 100,000 feet, collecting a fantastic CMB data set!


When you tell people you are going to Antarctica, without fail the first thing they want to know about is whether you will see penguins. The second thing they want to know is whether you can bring one home with you. I knew the answer to the second question, but was hesitant about the first. Folks who have been down before have cautioned that I might not get to see any penguins since they only show up later in the season as the ice starts to break, and even if I did, they would probably be at a distance.

So when we heard a rumor near the end of the work day yesterday that an Emperor had been sighted near the road, I got excited that I might be able to take a picture out the window of the van of a speck out in the distant whiteness that I could post and say “Penguin!” just to prove I had seen one.

But Jon and Cynthia and I got much luckier than that. We spotted him off the road, and our shuttle driver pulled off and let us out. The penguin was scootching along on his belly, and he was headed right toward us! We were as close to an emperor penguin as we could possibly be without violating the rules of interfering with wildlife. He would scootch on his belly for a while (see video) and then stand up, look around, squawk, waddle on his feet a little while, and then go back to belly scootching. We were giggly and giddy the whole time, and for hours afterwards. There is such a thing as a penguin high.

My camera malfunctioned, of course, at the worst possible time, so I did not get many pictures or video. I’ll post what I did take, though, and check out other SPIDER people’s blogs for more. Everyone on the team got to see him as he made his way out to hang out at LDB!

Thanksgiving and another week of progress

The combination of being ridiculously busy and having poor (if any) internet when I do have downtime has prevented me from blogging at all this week. I am at this moment starting a calibration night shift (~11 PM to ~noon), so I’ll take advantage of this time when others are sleeping to use the unclogged internet!

Going back a week to Thanksgiving to begin. It’s never easy to be away from home for the holidays, but the wonderful Thanksgiving(s) we had here made the holiday special all the same. Last Thursday, the LDB galley staff went all out and cooked us an incredible feast for lunch. It had everything you could want from a home cooked Thanksgiving meal. And some of us poor souls had to stay a little late and eat the left overs for dinner too.

What more could you want for a Thanksgiving meal?

What more could you want for a Thanksgiving meal?

Around here, all holidays are moved to Saturdays. Since most people work six days a week and get Sundays off, this gives them the opportunity to get two days in a row off and to be more able to enjoy the holiday. So the big day was last Saturday. We worked a somewhat shorter day, and then met for the big dinner at 7. During the day, Cynthia used her mad crafty skills to make accessories out of materials in the lab. So folks looked a little more spruced up for dinner!

I didn’t take any photos on Thanksgiving, but I have stolen Cynthia’s to share with you.

This week, we have been working like mad to get our instrument flight ready. You have two competing interests- being very careful to make all the measurements you can to calibrate your instrument before you launch it and can never calibrate it again, and also completing every pre-flight step as quickly as possible so we are ready whenever the weather is suitable for launch. Other competing interests- like sleep, relaxation, fun- are no longer so high in priority. Because of that, I don’t have a lot of pictures from this week. So below is a somewhat random assortment.

First- trunion throw competition. Once the arm wrestling tournament ended due to too many injuries, we came up with a new contest- who could throw the non-flight trunions (basically, hunks of steel) the furthest. Jon and his Icelandic strength took home the prize.

Second, Bill and I checked out the Obs Tube again in sunnier weather than the first time. The colors were new, and the whales were making tons of sounds.

Finally, a couple pictures from the last few nights of calibration. My main job right now is pointing a spectrometer at our detectors so we can characterize their response as a function of the frequency of light they detect. The measurement is going really well, and hopefully should finish up tonight, leaving me with a mountain of data to analyze. It can be a pain to calibrate over 2000 detectors, but there are worse problems to have!