Is it 2016 yet?

Hello from the future!

It has been 2016 for almost 17 hours now. It’s just fine so far. Today was a working day for the station, but most people will get another two-day weekend, so everyone’s stoked. This will be the last two-day weekend for the rest of the season.

Some people stayed up to celebrate the New Year, but Richard and I went to bed. Typical. The store stocked up on Champagne, then limited the sale to one bottle per person, then ran out anyway. Because I had to work at 4 a.m. today, I didn’t imbibe. But maybe I’ll indulge in an Isaac’s Cider tomorrow night. They are a New Zealand brand that is part cider, part wine and all good.

For lunch today the chefs served black-eyed peas and collard greens. Good luck for the New Year, they said.

The whole station has been buzzing about whether the Long-Duration Balloon will launch? Has it? When? I was jokingly tasked by the kitchen staff to run up Observation Hill “real quick now” and take barometric pressure and wind speed readings to predict whether the balloon would launch that day. (It didn’t, nor did I actually get to go up Ob Hill on company time.)

People are excited for a myriad of reasons: (1) The balloon project is super cool; (2) The ballon is super huge; (3) and nothing happens here so anything out of the ordinary is pretty awesome.

For the launch, conditions must be fairly perfect and the weather has been iffy lately. They have announced plans to launch every few days and then nothing happens. If it does launch, the top of Ob Hill is going to be busy as many, many people will climb up there to view the balloon.

To give you an idea of the stratospheric balloon: it is 400-feet in diameter and expands to 40 million cubic feet. For comparison, most commercial hot air balloon companies use 600,000 cubic feet balloons. So, this thing is huge.

Also, it’s fast. It rises at a rate of 900 feet per minute and rides around 125,000 feet of altitude.

The balloons are used by NASA, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Antarctic Program and other astrophysics and geospace scientists to gather data for various projects.

One project measures “rare heavy elements among the flux of high-energy cosmic rays bombarding the Earth from elsewhere in our Milky Way Galaxy.”

Another balloon has a telescope that looks at the level of polarization in galactic magnetic fields to “determine if magnetic fields are a dominant force over turbulence in regulating star formation in our Galaxy.”

And a third ballon carries instruments to measure the cosmic microwave background radiation. This is looking for evidence of the expansion that is thought to have occurred within a fraction of a second after the Big Bang.

All three balloons would circumnavigate Antarctica. When they land, groups will fly out to retrieve the instruments and balloons.

I’m not sure which balloon is up for the launch, but I think it’s the telescope one. And things are getting stressful because they usually try to launch all three balloons within the summer season and none have yet been launched this year.

I’ll keep you posted!

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