I suppose now might be a good time to explain, for those who don’t already know, why I’m at the South Pole. It’s for work. I work on a project called IceCube which is “An NSF funded, international high-energy neutrino detector being installed in the clear deep ice below the South Pole“. What this means is that we drill holes 2.5km deep down into the ice here and deploy “strings” of light detectors down those holes. After the hole has frozen in, these detectors digitize what they see and send that info to the surface. Some of what they will see will be the faint light which is the result of a neutrino striking the atomic particles in the ice, hence detecting a neutrino. On the surface connected to the strings is a cluster of computers which suck all that data up from the ice and process it, filtering out noise (things other than a neutrino hit) and then send that data to tape and north over a satellite link. I work on the first layer of that software, known as the Surface DAQ (Data Acquisition) running on that cluster of computers.
My primary job here is to get this DAQ software built, configured, installed and running on this year’s new cluster and new strings. I’m not the only one doing this, a few others will be showing up in a few days to help out, but I’m the first DAQ person on the scene here this year. Last year there were 9 strings in the ice, as of today there are 10 more, with 2 more on the way.
So, for me at home, IceCube is all software. Here at the pole it is a very different story – it’s all about the drill (which is an impressive feat of engineering in itself) and getting the strings deployed into the ice. The photo above is (another panoramic photo of) the TOS (which I think stands for Tower Operations Structure) and is the building in which a hole is drilled and the string is deployed. The spool off to the left is the communications cable being uncoiled down into the hole.
The end result (which will take a few more years to complete) is to have a cubic kilometer of ice, 1.5kms beneath the surface of the south pole, instrumented with 70-80 strings of these light detectors (60 per string). What is really crazy is that all this is, for the most part, looking for neutrinos which have come down (or up from here) through the planet from the north. The detector is, in effect, using the Earth as a filter. This works for neutrinos because they are magnetically neutral (hence their name “the neutral one”) so nothing is solid from their perspective, not even a planet. This makes them both very difficult to detect but also very informative, if you can catch enough, on the origins, structure and future of the universe.
Basically, some pretty routine stuff.