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Windswept – Postcards from the Pole

c2001 J.D. Hrubes, 3-25-01

by Meghan Prentiss

Aurora Australis photo
Aurora Australis, the southern lights.

We are into the true "depths of winter" at this point in the season here. It is pitch black outside except for the stars and some amazing aurora australis displays. The moon is up every two weeks like a giant spotlight making its way around the horizon. Wešve seen some of our coldest temperatures yet, including a dip down to -98°F at the end of April. A few fierce windstorms have carved some formidable drifts and cornices around the dome.

Life at Pole became a lot simpler after we waved goodbye to the last plane of the season in mid-February. Suddenly the population dropped to 50, and the stress of the busy summer season vanished. Everything we needed to get through the next eight-and-a-half months is on the station. Everyone here plays an important role in running the station and, ultimately, in ensuring our survival.

The sun took its time setting below the polar plateau, giving us spectacular colors and a green "flash" that was visible for several days. We saw the last refracted rays of sunlight disappear below the horizon around March 26th and enjoyed the extended twilight for almost a month afterward. The long shadows and colors of sunset and twilight came as a welcome relief from the constantly glaring whiteness of the summer months. Sunset also signified the true start of the polar winter. The temperatures plummeted steadily and we found out how much harder simple tasks can become in total darkness.

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