Editor’s Note: Welcome to ANITA, the Antarctic Impulsive Transient Antenna! From October to December, Katie Mulrey is traveling with the ANITA collaboration to Antarctica to build and launch ANITA III, a scientific balloon that uses the entire continent of Antarctica for neutrino and cosmic ray detection. This is the second installment in a series, “Neutrinos on Ice,” documenting that effort.
Off we go! I had been traveling for more than 35 hours by the time I arrived in Christchurch, New Zealand and met the first wave of ANITA collaborators. We were all pumped up to do some science! Everyone who goes to McMurdo Station, the U.S. research station in Antarctica, stops first in Christchurch. It’s a great city that was struck by an earthquake in 2011.
There is still significant damage to many buildings, and roads are closed. There are art installations all over town amidst the wreckage that make the rebuilding process really interesting and beautiful. One of my favorite sights was the Christchurch Transitional Cathedral. The original cathedral was damaged in the quake, so the city built a new one from shipping containers and cardboard—such awesome ingenuity and architecture in a time of devastation!
The first stop in Christchurch was the CDC (Clothing Distribution Center), where we received our ECW (extreme cold weather) gear. (It's not a science project unless there are countless acronyms!) We got two bags full of parkas, thermal underwear, mittens, gloves, hats, boots and anything else you could want to stay warm. The “Big Red” parka is the warmest piece of clothing we got. It is full of down feathers and has many pockets for storing all the things you need to have handy in the field: screwdrivers, pens, tape, hardware, you name it! “Little Red” is Big Red's little brother. It is a windbreaker, also with many pockets, perfect for those midsummer days when Big Red would be too warm.
We met a number of fellow Antarctic travelers at the CDC. It is amazing how many people go to Antarctica for different reasons. There were divers, artists, bus drivers, scientists, pilots, chefs, waste management specialists, communications people—everyone you can think of to make the 2014-2015 Antarctic season successful.
The beginning of the season has seen some rough weather. “Condition One” storms have delayed flights from Christchurch to McMurdo and passengers and cargo have backed up. Our flight was delayed about 12 hours, which gave us some time to explore beautiful New Zealand before heading south.
Tired from hours of hiking around Lord of the Rings filming sites, we caught a shuttle to the airport at 11:00 p.m. We were lucky to fly to McMurdo on a military C-17. These planes are huge and provide a smooth ride. Passengers, decked out in cold weather gear, sit in seats lining the edge of the plane. Huge shipping containers fill most of the space in the center of the plane (carrying our scientific equipment, as we later found out). Our flight was a red-eye, so once we took off many people found a nice place on the floor of the plane to snuggle in and fall asleep for the five-and-a-half hour flight. Big Red parkas make excellent blankets!
I woke up to a hubbub near the small window in the plane. We were flying over Antarctica! Seeing the continent in real life is an amazing experience.
The plane was buzzing with excitement as we landed on the Pegasus Ice Runway at McMurdo Sound. When you step off the plane all you see is white. After your eyes adjust, the mountains all around you actually seem colorful! Off in the distance we could make out the LDB (long duration balloon) facility, which will be where we do most of our work for the next few months. Sense of scale is very strange in Antarctica. Everything is so vast; it is hard to judge the size of anything or the distance to anything. It was -10 degrees Fahrenheit when we landed and a beautiful spring day in Antarctica.
We were hurried onto “Ivan the Terra Bus,” which took us to McMurdo Station via snow roads. Snow roads are hard to maintain and require buses to drive at very low speeds. As the season progresses and it get warmer, the roads will get slushy and the ride will be much bumpier.
McMurdo Station is a bustling little town on the southern tip of the Ross Ice Shelf. There is a cafeteria, dormitories, gyms, workshops, science buildings and even a coffee shop! In fact, it reminds me a lot of college. McMurdo's summer population is more than 1,000 people. The first few days in McMurdo are filled with orientations, unpacking, serious jetlag, and generally getting used to Antarctic life. We are looking forward to setting up our hanger at the LDB facility. There are antennas to be unpacked, electronics to be calibrated and neutrinos to be detected!