International Polar Year Antarctic Blog
"" ""

A South Pole Thanksgiving
International Polar Year link11:15 a.m., Nov. 27, 2007--Editor's note: Over the next few weeks, with support from the National Science Foundation, a team of University of Delaware researchers will be at work in one of the iciest, coldest, most austere places on the planet: South Pole, Antarctica. Currently stationed at the South Pole are UD researchers Thomas Gaisser, Stoyan Stoyanov, and James Roth of UD’s Bartol Research Institute, who are working on the IceCube neutrino telescope.

Their Antarctic blogs will appear on UDaily and on the Wilmington News Journal’s Delaware Online Web site through a partnership between UD and the newspaper.

Thanksgiving was a normal working day at the South Pole, and it was quite productive for our sub-group of IceCube. The main part of IceCube is about a mile deep in the ice under the snow-covered surface. It consists of cables almost two miles long with 60 detectors, each inside a rugged glass pressure vessel, spaced 50 feet from each other on the lowest part of the cable. On the surface above each “string” of deep detectors is a pair of 600 gallon tanks. Our group from UD is responsible for this array of detectors on the surface, called IceTop. On Thanksgiving Day, we placed ten tanks in their trenches at five of the locations where holes for the deep detector will be drilled later this season.

The next day, we used a ski-mobile with a sled attached to carry the optical modules out to the tanks and install them. These are the same detectors used in the deep ice, and they work the same way in our tanks. We hang two optical modules in each tank. Later, the tanks will be filled with water. We freeze it carefully to avoid bubbles so that we end up with a clear tank full of ice in which the optical modules are immersed. When a cosmic-ray particle goes through the ice, it makes a flash of light that is registered by the photomultiplier and digitized by the computer that is contained inside the optical module above the photomultiplier.

We celebrated Thanksgiving with dinner on Saturday, November 24, and a two-day weekend. James and 20 or 30 other volunteers peeled potatoes for the festivities, and a somewhat smaller group made the pies. The celebration culminated on Saturday with three seatings for Thanksgiving dinner, starting at 3:30 in the afternoon.

In the morning, I volunteered in the kitchen, first carving turkeys and then washing dishes for brunch. James Brown, the executive chef at the South Pole, made 16 roast turkeys as well as some smoked ones and even a deep-fried turkey. This was the fifth November in a row that I’ve had Thanksgiving dinner in the galley at the South Pole. It was quite a nice occasion.

--Tom Gaisser, UD Research Team Leader