Thursday, December 13, 2012


My flight to pole was scheduled at 5 in the evening, but we were told to be ready to go in the event that the flight moved up in response to weather being bad elsewhere in the continent.  So I spent the whole day in the town; in the end, my flight was canceled.

This travel restriction was really too bad; I had made plans through some friends working on EBEX to go visit as they prepare for their planned balloon flight this weekend.  EBEX has similar science goals as the other experiments that I work on, but will do the measurement from a high altitude balloon at ~120,000 feet.

Remember how turbulence in the atmosphere can add noise to our measurements?  You should think of a balloon as a budget alternative to a satellite: they climb above most of the atmosphere and thus attain sensitivity similar to a satellite.  Antarctica has a novel weather system that causes these balloons to circle the continent, and in principle an experiment can observe for a month.  Thanks to the higher attainable sensitivity at high altitude, one month of their measurement is comparable to a couple years of observing on the ground.  So there's a decent chance they will catch up with our team that has been integrating since 2010.

Here's a link to a short youtube video showing a launch of one balloon out on the Ross Ice Shelf.
Long Duration Balloon (LDB) launch

The downside is that Ballooning is risky business compared to ground based experiments.  This season, Mark Devlin's team will also be re-flying the BLAST experiment to study magnetic fields in star-forming regions.  You can watch his interview on the Colbert Report to get a sense of some of the risks:
Ballooning on colbert Report

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