Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Big boom!

Yesterday some experts detonated some explosives planted around the old station (the original station built in the 50s) in an attempt to further collapse the snow in that area. Parts of the old station are still there under loads of snow which leads to a treacherous situation. A year or two ago, a bulldozer was grooming the old station area when a section collapsed and it took a great deal of effort to pull out that bulldozer. Thus the decision to try to fully collapse the snow over the old station.

For me, this is not just a safety measure, it's an opportunity for a cool show!

We left the IceCube Lab 15 minutes before the scheduled time and walked 100 yards or so to the South Pole Telescope building, which is the closest building to the explosions.

At SPT, we went inside to warm up a bit, then climbed the outside stairs to the roof.

A decent crowd of spectators assembled there, including several of the Traverse guys, all with cameras ready to capture the action.

The team of experts took a while to get everything ready but after about 10 minutes the station announced that blasting would begin in 1 minute. I got my camera out of my warm jacket and started taking video 30 seconds before "explosion time".

About 20 seconds after the scheduled time, one of the experts started walking back toward the point where all the wires were connected, so there was obviously a technical problem. I stopped recording and put my camera back in my jacket. The extreme cold drains batteries quickly and 50 seconds or so of video had depleted about two-thirds of my camera's battery !

After some work, the expert walked back to the group and soon one of them shouted out "Fire in the hole. In ten ... nine ...", so I got my camera back out and started filming again. The countdown reached zero and ... nothing again. By this point my camera's battery indicator was flashing red!

After another trip out to work on the connections, without any other warning someone just shouted "Fire in the hole!" and the explosion went off!

There was a satisfying spray of snow and a definite BOOM, accompanied by a groan from the crowd that we weren't able to get any pictures!

I know they weren't there to entertain us but still....

After the explosion, people milled around a bit but we had been standing on top of the building in the wind for about half an hour so everyone left pretty quickly. Ralf offered my a ride back to the station on the sled attached to his snow machine, but I hadn't brought a helmet. One of the traverse guys overhead that conversation and said he was driving past the station if I'd like a ride, so I got to ride back in one of the traverse vehicles!!!

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