Saturday, 13 February 2016

Fieldwork Week 1: The Kjell Henrickson Observatory (KHO)

Unsurprising tip of the week: Russians really know how to party.

This is the first time for the Aberystwyth 7, that any of us have had a chance to do some field work. Admittedly for myself, my main research area is the Sun and one cannot really take a field trip to the Sun. A shame really. BUT, the fact that the field work wasn't tied directly into the Sun didn't make it any less fun.

The schedule for each day was a late start, we would gather at UNIS for around 4:30 pm, pack up the cars and head in the direction of Mine 7, one of the still functioning coal mines on Svalbard. This is about a 10km journey but doesn't take too long. Upon arrival we have to swap to a vehicle that is capable of traversing the harsher landscape up there, known as a Belt Wagon but for all intents and purposes it's an All-Terrain-Vehicle (ATV). A short but very bumpy ride later we arrive at KHO where there is a strict low light policy to ensure that no stray light enters the equipment and saturates the detectors. We would then spend the night doing some interesting science and learning about the individual detectors, what they're used for, who they're owned by, and the like. We'd grab ourselves a pizza and continue for a few more hours till around 00:00 or 01:00 UTC +1, at which point it would be another short trip down in the ATV to the cars and another short ride back to Nybyen where we'd attempt to get some much needed sleep.

KHO against a starry background

Specifically we got up to the following:

Tour of the facility, example calibration of the Meridian Scanning Photometer (MSP), familiarisation with the forms of data available online to predict the occurrence of Aurora, observing Aurora, food, and a lot of photographs of all of this. Interestingly I managed to find a Fish-eye lens that fitted the Nikon so I had a bit of fun with that obviously...

Started the evening with a quick visit to the SuperDARN radar which is due to open in March of this year. There were some power issues that were making it difficult for the radar to remain operational which means a bit of digging to make sure that the power source was still okay. Completed the rest of the tours around the facility and instruments at KHO, spent a little time looking at Aurora but the majority were obscured behind the clouds. We experienced a very strong sub-storm that saturated the detectors it was just a huge shame that the clouds had been in the way. More pizza was consumed.

This was calibration day and consisted of 3 main calibrations. In order to do this we had to mount a lamp of known intensity a certain distance from the detectors. Then there was a mount placed above the detectors to ensure that the incoming beam was directed straight into the apertures. We did this twice for 2 similar Spectrometers and had to do a slightly different set up for the last one but under the same setup: lamp -> mount -> spectrometer. These instruments only get calibrated once a year and so we had to make sure that what we did would be good enough for the scientists that are going to use them throughout the next 366 days. More pizza was consumed.

Today we were given the data from the sub-storm that I mentioned occurred on Tuesday night and were asked to calculate the position of the sub-storm based on the data that the magnetometers had picked up at different latitudes between Tromsø and Longyearbyen. Given that the Aurora was dominated significantly by green (emission from Oxygen), the peak height is said to be around 150-180km, which meant that our first calculation of ~7400km was sliiightly off... As was our second guess of 4.6km. What was thought to be a simple geometry problem turned into about 2 hours of calculations that kept bouncing between too low and too high a value for the height. EVENTUALLY Pål (pronounced kinda like Paul) let us get away with 511km and put the deviation down to the sporadic nature of the measurements from different locations and thankfully he was deliberately trying to demonstrate that the model we had been given was insufficient. It all made sense though our stomachs did not thank him for the delay in food. More pizza was consumed.

And that mostly concluded the goings on for the week, we had Friday off which was a nice chance to try and catch up on some sleep, not that it happened of course. It is worth mentioning that we had a journalist with us over the last 2 days of the field work who is making a documentary on what it's like for students to come up and study there from all over the globe which means you'll definitely be subjected to a professional video of our beautiful faces attempting to science at some point. No doubt our terrible attempts to calculate the height will feature... More importantly we took some rather cool photos with the guy and we're hoping that some of it will feature online soon so we can pass it on to you all!

And finally the best 3 photographs I managed to get of the Aurora up there:


Next on the agenda is the field work up at EISCAT Svalbard Radar, and you can bet there will be pictures there!

Time for a cuppah I think.

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