As winter is approaching in Europe, I want to share a few impressions from the coldest place I have ever been to. (Read here how I got there.) The Amundsen-Scott South Pole station is located far inland on the Antarctic continent, right next to geographic South Pole.
In a landscape with no notable features, the station itself is one of the most photogenic subjects. Flags like the one in the front mark the way to and from the station in bad weather conditions.
Other major landmarks are the bigger ones of the scientific experiments carried out at the South Pole. The South Pole Telescope, shown on the left, is one of those experiments which make use of the extraordinary conditions at this location. In the case of this project, it’s the very dry air at the South Pole that led to this choice of location. Below is a picture of my colleagues walking towards the South Pole Telescope for a small guided tour of the facilities. It is very common that scientists offer to explain their work to the staff and visitors of the station.
Another experiment located there is IceCube, an experiment which detects a special type of elementary particle called neutrino. Some people like to call these particles “ghost” particles because they can travel through large amounts of material without leaving any trace, like ghosts walking through a wall. Very rarely however, they do crash into an atomic nucleus. These interactions lead to the production of light but to ever see them, it is necessary to instrument a large volume of transparent material with optical sensors. IceCube uses a cubic kilometer of Antarctic ice for that. The experiment is installed deep inside the ice shield, so that despite its gigantic size, there is nothing to see except from the counting house shown below.
To survive in the cold and wind of the South Pole, we were issued a set of (in my case oversized) extremely cold weather gear. To avoid frost bite and protect the eyes, I opted to wear a full facial mask.
Even though the landscape is all flat and white, and even though the sun never sets in the Antarctic summer, there are plenty of photo opportunities created by the ever changing sky, the people around and the objects they create.
Shown above is an entry to a competition of ice sculptures created at the South Pole.
Even the heavy gear and tools lying around can be photogenic enough if the sky plays along.
Shown above and below are two of my colleagues during an extended walk in the area around the station. We started out in fine weather but the visibility dropped as we walked, turning the simple (yet exhausting) walk into a surreal experience.
Time of visit: January 2010
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