The next big step is being completed right now as we go through our Mission Readiness Review (MRR). Originally we were scheduled to have the MRR a few weeks ago, but with the government shutdown it got rescheduled. After this, assuming we pass, we can start shipping everything down to Antarctica. The campaign always starts to seem real once we start shipping.
Once we have shipped all of our payloads there will be a few weeks before the team heads down to the ice. It gives us a bit of a break except that we will all be going to a workshop mid November and will be getting ready for the American Geophysical Union conference held in San Francisco CA.
From Dartmouth Brett and Robyn are heading down south, Brett will leave before AGU and Robyn right afterwards. It's about a month long trip to get to the stations. We hope to follow their journey down to the ice as we did last year on the BARREL blog.
For those of us who are not traveling down to the ice, we don't get to relax during that month. We will be spending our time preparing the test payload, making sure that the ground stations are working, setting up the mission monitors, and preparing with our collaborators for the daily telecoms. Of course throughout all of this we will all be working on our data from the last campaign. We have so many interesting events and questions to solve and not enough hours in the day.
Last year we learned just how tough and all consuming running the campaign is and will be. That has however not damped the enthusiasm for this second round or the planning of the potential third campaign. We are starting to consider what might make a really interesting science question to answer. There are so many possibilities it is hard to just chose a few. Where we plan to launch and the number of balloons and payloads we will have access to will likely determine what type of events and science we would be looking at. Does one go during turn around (a time near equinox where the polar winds are such that the balloon floats to altitude then just sits relatively still in one spot) where the flights will be shorter, but you might be able to recover and re fly the payloads? Or do you do what we have done the last two years and fly during the Antarctic summer so that the payloads will stay up for as long as possible, but no hope of recovery?
So much to think through, but so many amazing possibilities. I can't wait to see what we decide and for this years campaign to start.
At the moment the BARREL mission is fine and we haven't been directly hit with the closing of the Antarctic research for the season. This is because we launch from two non-American stations, Halley Bay 6 (a British base) and SANAE IV (a South African base) which are still open for the entire Antarctic summer. This does not mean that we haven't been affected or might not be directly affected in the future if the government doesn't open before we are suppose to launch, but we have every hope that this year will be a success. Some data sites are offline so we can not get the data needed to make progress with our current research on the data we collected last year. We can not get in contact with some of our collaborators through normal means which slows up the progress of our ability to get data, collaborate, and publicize our data availability. At meetings we can not meet with our collaborators who were planning on attending. These are lost opportunities to have more collaborations and hear about progress in their fields. And unfortunately funding for grants has been put off and/or reduced or postponed for at least a year. This is what will end up hurting the most. If we can't get funding, then we don't get paid and an already competitive job field becomes even more competitive. This also means that there is less science getting funded and ultimately less progress as a society and culture.
We as a society use the results of science, both pure and those that are closer to implementation in to technology and the market, every day. We use GPS systems without thinking. I am typing up this blog post on what would have been considered a super computer when I was in elementary school. We predict the weather with better accuracy than ever before. We find cures, treatments, and preventions for illnesses that would have wiped us out not even 30 years ago. We have cool LED flashlights! We use the results of science everyday, and every day we are discovering the next small step forward which will ultimately make a neat new technological innovation tomorrow. However if we stop science, we'll never know what that new thing that will make our lives better is.
Science use to only be able to be done by the rich or those with rich benefactors. Now most science, especially physics, is done in academia and government labs and a bit in the industry, but most are funded by the government. It is tough to see the effects rippling though the fields and I can't even imagine how long it is going to take to get back to where we were. Many long term experiments have been derailed, and those effects will lost much longer than the shutdown itself.
There are many great, well really just sad, but well told stories out there about how the government shut down has affected science and scientist. The Huffington post did a short article on how for some research groups this has really hurt their labs and experiments. Scientific American talks about how some Antarctic researchers had to turn around right after completing the long journey down under. The type of research affected is as diverse as science itself. Nature talks about how some NIH labs have been affected. NPR has had numerous reports which span the fields and how having so many scientist out of work has affected the local communities and businesses where they live.
Space physics is only the most awesome, exciting, interesting, and all around best area of study... but I might be biased. Besides just being cool, it has many practical applications and as we move further into space, and/or just more dependent on the technologies that can be affected by space weather, understanding this area of our environment becomes increasingly important.
The sun is constantly spewing stuff at us, and by stuff I mean magnetic fields, electrons, protons, and some times other ions. When this stuff which we call the solar wind (SW) and interplanetary magnetic field (IMF) collides with our, Earth's, magnetic field, you can get a geomagnetic storm, or sometimes just a substorm. Think large global hurricane, or "just" a tornado. A storm is likely to cause more damage globally here on Earth where as a substorm is more likely to just affect the polar regions. Granted if you are affected by either one, it can be bad, and/or beautiful. Lloyds of London put together a great package on some of the risks of space weather which can be found here. The photo above of the aurora shows just a fraction of the beauty that these storms can produce. The aurora are 3-D structures that move and change relatively quickly and perhaps my favorite way to view them is vicariously through the international space station... Some day I'll have to try to make it up there.
Space physicists attempt to understand and ultimately predict when space weather will effect technology (or when it's best to go outside to look for the aurora which is a beautiful side benefit). We have only been able to get in situ measurements, or measurements at the source, since 1957 when Sputnik was launched. Since then we've had many other satellite missions, and there has been a large increase in ground based instrumentation to study space weather. Of course as always with science, with more data comes answers, but normally also with it more questions.
Although we've been looking at space for thousands of years, we've only been able to look in space for less than a century. Although we've made huge strides in our understanding of this new environment, we still have a long way to go. It makes it fun and interesting. Some physicist work on the edge of our physical understanding, We work at the edge of space just trying to figure out what all is out there, how it works, and how it all fits together. It's an adventure every day and each new data set holds a new mystery! I really love my job, I think it's the best one in the world.
Here are some fun space physics links.