Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A tour of the Dark Sector Laboratory

I spend most of my time working in the Dark Sector Laboratory (DSL).  This photo was taken by our winter-over Steffan Richter as the sun rose in September a few years back:

After six months of darkness, that sight must be a true relief.

The bandwidth through the satellite connections is too poor to upload videos from here, so I can’t send up a tour of the lab.  Fortunately, my friend Jon Kauffman helped make one a couple years ago shortly before we decommissioned the BICEP-2 experiment.  Check it out here:

That tour does not really talk much about the South Pole Telescope, which is the large dish on the side of the building in the background.  The South Pole Telescope is probably our fiercest and most competent competitor.  But since we work in such close proximity, we wind up being extensions of each other’s teams while we’re down here, sharing advice, hardware and even manpower when needed.  While both teams are out to “win,” we all want to win for the right reasons.  And since we’re packed in together in such a remote location, our teams enjoy a camaraderie not seen anywhere else in our field.

Our team is in the process of building a much larger telescope in the space that Jon shows in the video above.  BICEP-2 was designed to observe the sky at the color where the Cosmic Microwave Background is brightest-- 150GHz.  (that 150 times higher than your cell-phone’s carrier frequency).  BICEP-3 will map at 100GHz, but with five times the detectors.  This will let us better understand the origins of the signals our team has seen.  Are those signals from the early universe, glowing dust in our galaxy, or some combination of the two?  Or maybe something else...

Once completed, BICEP-3 will map the sky in conjunction with the Keck Array, another set of telescopes that our team runs out of an adjacent building called the Martin A Pomeritz Observatory (MAPO).  I made a tour video of that the last time I was down here, which you can see here:

NOTE: when I was filming the cameras up in the rotating mount, I was paying more attention to not getting my hand caught in the azimuth (left-right) drive than where I was pointing my camera.  So when I am describing the elevation drive that move the telescopes up and down, I was actually pointed at a tray full of cables.  Oops.

1 comment: