|Quiet Nights, Crazy Nights|
Halley's been changeable and changed over the past week. The weather started calm and cold, the space weather stormy with moon, stars and aurora playing in the sky. Then this weekend, as we transformed the garage into a nightclub, the calm was shattered as the buildings started shaking to strong winds.
I figured out my camera for this lot of aurora which coincided with nearly clear skies and a full, bright moon. In the harsh moonlight the ice stretches out grey into the distance and buildings brood, floodlit against the dark skies behind. The glow in the sky this time took the form of a gentle green arch to the south, twisting and snaking as bursts of energy fell through the sky from space. Here and there spears of light pierce downwards into the breathing bursts of soft, green fire. To the eye the main impression is of forms on the edge of vitality, like surf on the ocean shore, the cosmic chaos pulses with faint whispers of life. To the camera that sees for thirty seconds the dance is frozen, the colours grow more vivid and the moonlight is collected and stored until the scene that emerges looks more like day than night. A fancy way, I suppose, of saying that it's very different to be lying on the cold, crunching snow.
Back inside the base, the main activity this week centered on preparations for Club Nido. The garage, free of large vehicles as the final fixes from summer are finished, is decorated with sheepskins, flashy lights and scattered nibbles. As the final frantic touches were being applied on Friday, the wind outside started to rise. As we finished dinner and walked the 400m to the garage it had reached around 35 knots, nippy but no cause for concern so long as we wrapped up well. At the club the fun commenced, passing from gentle openers, through Indie, Cheese and into doof-doof beep-beep dance. The spritely younger base members bounced about, then donned glowsticks and jerked about frantically for an hour or two.
As the night drew on, and three o'clock approached, we decided the time had come to head home. Outside the wind had risen again, now to something nearer 45 knots, so the journey took a little longer, as we headed back in twos and threes to be sure not to lose anyone. After what seemed like ages we sighted the lights of the Laws above us, and the stairs just in front of us. As we climbed up the building showed how pleased it was to see us again by delivering static shocks through our gloves. Back inside we dusted ourselves off and tried our best to get a bit of sleep.
I woke early on Saturday, quite the curse, but made the most of the day by helping to launch the morning's weather balloon. Even getting to the Simpson was a challenge. While it was night outside, the strong wind picks up enough snow that everything around is a dim grey. Objects a few meters away become shrouded in nothingness. A handline appearing ahead and disappearing behind, held up by poles we can't see until right upon them. Ice quickly builds up on our face masks and goggles, so we have to stop and crouch against the furious wind from time to time to clear a path for light and air. We've no idea how far we've travelled as every step we push hard to fight against the buffeting blasts. Eventually we reach the end of the line, the Simpson hopefully somewhere in front of us. We aim where we think it sits and after a few steps find its steps and struggle upwards and upwind. Once inside we collapse for a few minutes, waiting for our frozen zips to thaw so we can escape our clothes before the snow that's worked its way inside melts and leaves them wet.
While we prepare the balloon and sonde we check over the Simpson to make sure it's all there, and find that the hatch above the Dobson (an optical spectrometer that measures ozone levels) has been ripped away, and everything in the room is covered in a thin layer of fallen spindrift. Not the best thing to happen to a computer or an expensive piece of equipment, but we think it will survive once it has had a chance to dry out.
After another struggle to reach the balloon launching shed we quickly fill the balloon and open the doors to the storm. Inside we're sheltered as the building's placed to shelter us from strong storms, which almost always come in with winds from the East. As we lead the balloon outside onto the platform the gusting wind starts to clutch at it, its skin forced to bulge and writhe, until the wind wins and snatches it away into the grey void. Shooting horizontally away, trailing its sonde behind. We hope that nothing catches on the handlines and parked vehicles downwind of the terminal, and suit up for a final journey back to the warm inside. It took as an hour to do a job that normally takes about ten minutes. Back inside we checked on the instruments and found that we'd been out in sustained winds of 63 knots, with gusts above that -- wind speeds close to the record at Halley. It certainly felt like it.
|^Back to Top^ | © Alex Gough 2006-05-15 | RSS 0.91 | RSS 2.0||In which it gets dark and cold|