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Leaving on the Very Last Plane

The station is closing today. It is one day earlier than we were expecting, which means we have had a last-minute scramble to finish all of our tasks at the telescope. Bad weather is approaching the station, forcing an early close for the season.

I can’t believe I’ve been here for almost four months. I have worked harder during that time than I have just about any other time in my life. That is one thing about living in a station where people are working 24 hours a day – you can easily feel that you should be working at all hours, every waking moment. All meals are shared with collaborators, and even social times often drift into long discussions about the telescope. It is a recipe for incredible productivity, but after a few months of being so saturated in my work, I am also looking forward to taking a few days to enjoy other things in life. I will be headed home to Athens, Ohio for a few days to visit my family, reunite with my cats, and rediscover pleasures like bathtubs, fresh vegetables, and dark nights. I am looking forward to it.

Farewell for now, South Pole!

Like last season, I’ll be flying out on the very last plane. It will be an event. For eight months, all flights to and from the South Pole will be suspended. The fifty people staying here at the station will have an emotional moment, watching our plane take off. It has the feel of a celebration, closing the summer season and officially beginning the winter season. But at the same time the apprehension and the vague unease among the winterovers is almost palpable. In a few weeks the sun will sink low to the horizon, and then eventually the station will be plunged into total darkness and extreme cold for months. I would love to have the experience for a few days, but I don’t know if I could handle it for such a long time.

Last year’s winter-overs waving goodbye as the last plane for 8-9 months departed.

For me, the most emotional thing about leaving is the last glance to the telescope. Everything in my life has revolved around that instrument while I have been here. In the last moments, it almost acquires a personality in my perception. I imagine it watching us prepare to leave, tired from a long season of modifications and upgrades, and ready to begin scanning the microwave sky.

Bonding with the telescope.

Thanks to everyone for reading this blog through my stay here, and for all the comments and emails. This will be my last post for a while, possibly until the next time I make this long trip. Stay warm!

During the coming austral winter months, the rising sun will sink closer and closer to the horizon until it disappears entirely.
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