Thursday, February 26, 2009

not so grim

That last blog post may have been a bit on the grim side. It caused my mom to send me a special sympathy email so I am writing again to assure you that I am doing quite well. Granted it would be better to be at home and doing quite well, but this is not so bad. I did a calculation and realized that I have been at home for a total of one month in the past four months. Maybe Harjit will give me an extra discount on my rent. At least I am away from The Barn when heating costs so much so we can save that money.

Yesterday Steve was feeling the need to go to the Salvation Army thrift store. Unfortunately he wasn't able to come across any great deals. Erik got a book which he insists will be good. I bought a shirt, which we all agreed was very good. Plus it was a yellow tag so I got 50% off. So I am wearing my new clothes today, and most people don't even realize that I am dressed in the most ridiculous fashion. That is the part that probably makes me laugh the most.

Also, yesterday, I wrote a little haiku. I will post it here.
A Haiku
by Meghan Mella
A dull solar wind.
No dynamic aurora.
Waiting, eat cheesecake.

This was inspired by the lack of aurora or space weather lately, and also by the fact that we have all become cheesecake connoisseurs. So far the best one is a raspberry white chocolate cheesecake.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Alaska Life

My life in Alaska is turning more and more into normal routine and less into an adventure apart from my regular life. I think I am even fitting the stereotypical role of "grad student" much better while I'm here due to my odd working schedule, massive intake of coffee, not really having any friends, etc. Also, I've started referring to my hotel as 'home' without even thinking twice about it, except for right now when I write about it, of course.
Here is an outline of my standard average day:
Wake up somewhere between 11am and 2pm. Eat breakfast. This usually is actual breakfast food but sometimes it is a more nontraditional breakfast, like a cheeseburger. Also, I get a good chuckle when a waitress gives us a drinks menu for "breakfast". Sometimes if I wake up early enough I can go grocery shopping. Today I went grocery shopping AND got new ink cartridges from Office Max. Also, the man at the bank gave me a sucker. Sometimes we go to the range early to get some sledding in. The newest development is to go down the footpath on one of the little sleds which is essentially like a toboggan run which is tons of fun. Then at around 6pm we do vertical checks. This takes about an hour. Then I go up to the science center. Then we wait. And wait. And get stressed out when things almost start looking good, but are never good enough. The other day we picked up the count twice. Normally when we are waiting we sit at T-10 minutes. It only takes 10 minutes to get everything ready to launch the rocket. In vertical checks every night we run through this 10 minutes to make sure everything goes smoothly. Well we can pick up the count if things are looking really good and hold at T-2 minutes. At this point we are still powering the payload externally (not yet using the batteries so that we can save them for flight), but the transmitter is on, and starts heating up, so we can only sit there for about an hour. When we are doing this I have to be down in the telemetry building, so I am totally cut off from the science discussion among my advisor and her co-investigators. This is Incredibly nerve-wrecking because I don't know if we are stopping at T-2 or actually launching until the clock actually gets there. And we did this twice the other day.
Last night we had aurora again but we also had clouds so we could not see it. That was really too bad. We are heavily dependent on clear skies in order to use ground optics to call the launch. We are getting to the point in our launch window where people are starting to consider what happens if we don't launch and if it is possible to get another launch window in march. Some of these guys have been here since the beginning of January to support the other rocket launches in January too, so stress levels are running high.
Here are some gratuitous aurora photos taken by Mike Nicolls.

Friday, February 20, 2009

More on the Lehmacher launch

It was in the local newspaper if you want to read about it. This photo by Lee Wingfield is also found there, which is pretty sweet.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Week 4 with a 40 degree temperature change

Things have been very busy around here! Last night Gerald Lehmacher's four Turbopause rockets launched. They were pretty neat to watch too. The rockets were smaller than our rocket (only reaching about 100km, whereas we will go to about 600km), but they had a chemical release of TMA that leaves a glowing trail you can see. Then they use ground optics to study the turbulence in the upper layers of the atmosphere. Plus you can basically see the TMA trail from all parts of Alaska which is really cool.

Here is a photo I took of the third rocket launch.

Here is a photo from Craig Heinselman, who has a better camera and better photography skillz. I really like this picture because you can see the rocket, the aurora, and the LIDAR beam. The Lehmacher team was using the LIDAR to see if there was enough turbulence to launch.

This is Craig Heinselman's photo of the TMA trail from one of the rockets. There was a TMA release on the upleg and on the downleg. The upleg portion is higher up on this photo and more blurred. The downleg portion was not a pulsed stream, instead of steady, from what I could tell, and you can kind of see that in the bottom line of TMA.

So that provided us with tons of fun and entertainment. We didn't leave the range until after 3am, since each of the rockets were launched 30 minutes or slightly more apart. Today we actually get to report to the range a little later though, since they are doing playbacks for the Lehmacher mission and won't be ready for us right away.

It has been awhile since I posted anything here, and even though we haven't launched our rocket, we have been keeping busy with other things. On a side note, I am trying to keep our group webpage updated more regularly, if you want to check it out. I think I actually have all of the photos (or will have) from that site plus additional ones here.

Me in front of the Poker Flat Incoherent Scatter Radar. When I went to radar summer school last year this is what I was learning about.

Sunset as seen from TM, a good sign of clearing skies!

Darla and her weather balloons used to check winds.

The rocket on the rail. Ours is the big one. Lehmacher is the little baby rocket to the left.

And here are a few extra things just for fun:

A very serious sign in the balloon building.

A weird thing at the Museum of the North.

A cute art at the Museum of the North

OH and one last bit of interesting news. There are two BBC guys here taking photos of aurora and rockets and stuff. If you are familiar with The Planet Earth series, this is a new show they are doing that branches off of that called The Frozen Planet, which (according to wikipedia) will show in 2011. Two years to wait for fame is not so bad.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Amazing aurora last night!

This photo is again from Craig Heinselman.

Last night we had some pretty great activity. Unfortunately our rocket is still not ready to launch, so no one was really talking about weather it was a "launchable" event or not. Probably it wouldn't have been because of the clouds. We have people at field stations further north of here with ground cameras, so we want clear skies at all of these places preferably, and last night we only had half clear skies overhead.

This photo is actually really cool because you can see the back of the science center, including the indoor glass observing room, and also the outdoor observing balcony. Also, the aurora was very interesting because it was showing a lot of small scale structure, as pictured in the upper right of this photo where you can see the stripes of aurora and no aurora.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

3 weeks and 3 degrees

**new note:
Blogger still won't let me upload photos, so I'm putting the photos on my site and just linking to them. Unfortunately I didn't rotate the photos before uploading them and doing so with html code is not trivial. You can, if it is any consolation, click on the image to view a larger size.

I have gotten way behind on blogging! I keep meaning to write all these things, but I just never got to it, so here I go, with a potentially huge post.

As of today I have been in Alaska for three weeks. It doesn't seem like it has been this long, because I haven't really seen three weeks worth of this place. I can find my way around town easily enough, which I guess is indicative of three weeks, but it could just be because I'm "like a duck". There are still a few things I'd like to do in town though before I leave. At the University of Fairbanks there is a Museum of the North which is apparently quite good. There is also a museum with a lot of native history of Alaska in Pioneer Park, which I've been to, but haven't fully explored. More on that later. Also, there are the Chena Hot Springs, which are apparently the thing to do. Also they have an ice museum at the hot springs which has an ice bar and martini glasses carved out of ice. We are switching to a night schedule now, so I can check out museums in the morning before we leave, but the hot springs won't happen unless we are required to take a day off. And by we I mean NASA, because they are not allowed to work 14 or more consecutive days without special permission.

A view from the TM building at sunset.

The rocket progress and plans for future progress are always very fluid. The tasks are listed by day, but the days always change. Some (most) things take way longer than expected, and some go much more quickly than expected. The beginning of this week showed remarkable progress. On Monday we got the entire payload all built up. This is a huge step. On Tuesday morning all of the pyros got installed and in the afternoon we did the roll out test. This involves wrapping the payload in blankets to keep it warm in the -18 degree F temps so that we can make sure telemetry sees the rocket. Currently we are waiting on the v-band that connects the experiment payload to the rocket motors. This piece is very important and somehow never made its way to Alaska. Oh and now I just found out that the trailer used to transport one of the motors has an expired certification. Who knows what that means.

Erik with the subpayloads.

The front end of the payload with the main payload experiment section and also the two PFFs stowed.

Lifting the nosecone and forward subpayload to mate with the main payload.

Lifting the entire payload to made with the aft subpayload.

Full payload experiment (mtv angle style).

Lowering the payload to be put on the tractor for transport to the launch pad.

The launch rail with the first two stages of our four stage motor, the Talos and Taurus.

The BUTTON! That is right, in the middle of the photo. Two keys (which are kept in a lock box), and then push the button and away we go!

The payload all wrapped up in blankets to keep it warm outside.

Technically our launch window was supposed to start tonight, but that is not going to happen because of these various issues. We were hoping to be ready on thursday but friday is probably a more realistic start. And the space weather is not too interesting until friday, so I guess that is alright. For those of you interested I'll list a few of the webpages I check regularly for space weather predictions.
Space Weather
Which is a very dense page, but also very informative.
Space Weather Now
This page is a little more specific, so it is a little easier to quickly get good info. Basically it tells us about the solar wind, which is the cause of all the interesting aurora we are looking for. So if the solar wind increases in speed and density that is good. If there are any geomagnetic storms that is really good. If the auroral oval expands down to Alaska that is really really good.
Poker Flat MSP
This is a meridian scanning photometer plot. Basically this shows an image of the aurora overhead. Good nights look like this. Dull nights look like this (that red dot is the moon I think). And cloudy nights (also bad) look like this.
AK Magnetometer Chain
This shows magnetometers in Alaska from north to south. Lots of wiggles mean lots of current and activity and good aurora. We like lots of wiggles.
And finally,
Carrington Rotation
This plot is really good actually. The sun makes a complete rotation in about 28 days, so if we see good activity, it is quite likely that 28 days later we will see it again. So on this plot each row is 28 days, so you can see that the peaks in the plotted value (kp index) are mostly lined up in columns. For example, I look at this plot and might suggest our best days will be February 15, 22, 27, and March 3.

Enough of that now. Time for non rocket things.

On friday night I got to go to a contra dance! It was pretty amazing. The AK contra experience is very different from the NH/VT contra. The caller was not quite as experienced, so some of the dances just fell apart and we had to start new ones. No one really minded though, so at least the contra communities are equally laid back about things. Also, the very last contra of the night was a really good one, and I think it is the favorite among the locals because they all knew it, which was tons of fun.

After I got back from contra, I took Hanna to pick up a large box of her camera equipment that was being shipped. I don't really know why we were picking up this huge box at midnight. It seemed a little shady, but hey, we needed these cameras. So we went to this place. Got this huge box, which just barely fit in the trunk of our Rav4. Also, they loaded it in the car with a forklift. Then we were on our own to unload it. We had to drop it off at the university. On the drive over I asked Hanna if she was going to try to drive a forklift if we could find one, and she replied deviously, "Maaybe." Well we ended up finding a cart that was only a few inches shorter than the trunk, so we just shoved the thing out onto this cart. It was quite the operation.

Then on sunday we had a range day off. Saturday was a very very long and stressful day. I don't even remember what happened, but it was bad. We have been eating all of our meals at the Chatanika Lodge which basically makes any variety of fried food you could ask for. So we thought on our day off it would be good to cook a delicious meal. And I said "I can make lasagna!" And Steve said "oooo well I ALSO have a very good lasagna." And that was when the PFRR Lasagna Bakeoff of 2009 was born. Mind you, Steve has been making lasagna for longer than I have been alive, so this was a pretty big challenge. So the challenge started with a trip to the thrift stores of Fairbanks to find baking pans and possibly another big pot, since our kitchens are not fully stocked. Also, Steve needed a blender. Well only one of the three thrift stores was open, and it had no baking pans. So we had to go with the disposable aluminum foil pan things. Kristina and I hosted the event, since we have the biggest apartment with a living room and a kitchen table. All of the cooking happened there as well, which was pretty intense. The competition was HIGH. At one point we realized we were missing a few things, so Erik had to quickly run to the grocery store for supplies. We ended up inviting maybe 50 people because we didn't want to leave anyone out. I think about half of them showed up. It was a very fun time. And best of all, you can now say you are the proud friend/family member of an award winning lasagna maker!


In other exciting news, Erik bought Settlers of Catan which is probably my most favorite game of all time. It is meant to be played with 3 or 4 people, but it is possible to play with just two also. We played two games before the bakeoff started and I won them both, which is not typical for me. Also, the second game was beautifully symmetric so I took a picture.

I think the final thing I want to post is a few pictures from the lodge (where we eat every day). These are just some fascinating things that I've seen there. The place has a lot of fascinating things, but these really stood out and I couldn't help but taking pictures.

quite friendly...

Friday, February 6, 2009

Video of Sledding

I stole this video from Hanna's blog, so if she ever deletes her blog, the link will die. This is from the first day of sledding when Hanna and I were on the tube together.


Notice at the end of the video how we both get flipped out and land with our faces in the snow. That part was the best.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Warmest -10 I've Ever Felt

Well I haven't done too much blogging recently. Today is a "warm" day. We are up to -10 F. Yesterday it was 30 degrees colder. The difference is really noticeable.

Two nights ago there was some pretty spectacular space weather.

Also, I haven't put too many photos up so here are a few for your viewing pleasure.

This is the North Pole.

This is the Alaska Pipeline. I was watching this thing on the tv that said it expands 4 feet for every mile of line when the oil starts flowing through it.

These are some Alaska trees in the morning.

Here are two Alaska moose.

These are domes on top of the science center.

The North Pole has an RV park.

This is a CASCADES2 team meeting. We make a lot of plans and then group up and change the plans.

Let me just tell you guys that it has been quite the day here at Poker Flat. This morning was mostly uneventful, which inspired me to compose a new blog post. Well, I didn't get to the point of posting it, since it takes a bit of time to upload these photos. After lunch Steve and I decided we needed to get some sledding in. I went down the sled run twice on the tube and twice on the sled. Our run is pretty bumpy, so the sled is kind of painful. Also, on my second tube run I had slightly grazed a tree, so I kind of have a scratch on my head and the tube is popped. And on my second sled run I had my sled attached to Steve's tube to act as a rudder of sorts, so that he wouldn't be going down the hill backwards. It started working nicely. Then I started gaining speed. The tube allows some control of speed, but the sled really does not. When I was alongside Steve we knew we were in trouble. I think he said, "I thought you were supposed to be driving?!?!" Shortly afterwards I bailed out.

Then I got back to the assembly building and was just in time to look at a few charts while they turned our instruments on briefly. The charts looked funny, but it could be explained, so I guess that is all okay. Then I put some air in the car tires in an attempt to make the "low air" light go out on the dash, but it didn't work. That's okay though, because I felt pretty good about myself to be putting air in my tires even though there are plenty of dudes around here who would have done it for me.

All in all a busy and fun day. I think there is still a lot of work to do though. I'm going to do some knitting though. The way I see it is once it hits 6pm I've already worked (disregard above note about sledding all afternoon) a full day.