I do love it here. It’s so vast, so expansive, never-ending. We were talking about

Space earlier, and going to the moon (was it a hoax, wasn’t it? The first time I’ve

not found myself surrounded by die-hard conspiracy theorists in a long time, on any

issue that is), and the various Apollo missions and living on a space station. I

wouldn’t do it: I have no desire to live in a bubble in space with three other people.

But people say Antarctica is the closest thing we can get to it – that it’s all a test

for living conditions on Mars, that Halley is more remote in the winter than the Mir

space station. There is no way out.

This conversation happened in a dark room,

just before dinner, during our first long power cut and our generator mechanic away on

his pre-winter trip. After just 10 minutes you could feel the building getting

colder. It’s not often that we reflect on our remoteness, that we are in fact living in a

box on stilts on a moving ice shelf with a no-get-out clause until December. It’s good

to be reminded every now and then. But it was nice when the lights returned as well.

Anyway, it was a bit like Space today, the immensity. The evening so huge. The moon

set to the west, a glowing fiery red sliver, blurry to look at, shaking in the

indefinite horizon. Such a tiny sliver of a perfect crescent moon, but more on its back

than we’re used to, and bright, bright fiery red. I’ve said all these words before I

know, but that’s what it was. And the night sky this evening, an aurora smoking its

way across the sky, green above the buildings, wisping eastwards, curling up at its

edge to meet the milky way. Where does the aurora stop and the milky way begin? The

milky way! Our galaxy. Scorpio scorpioning his way across the sky. So many, so so

many thousands of stars, so many they look like a bright white cloud in the sky. We’re

on the edge of this disc of stars. And there, to the edge of the disc, are two more

puffs of clouds, stars, Magellanic Clouds, two more galaxies. So clear, so

unbelievable. So huge. Immense.

The sun rises late now, about 10am. I wake up and it’s dark outside, dark with a

bright crescent moon and stars. Then, around eight or nine, reds and oranges appear

above the horizon to the east, glowing colours above the snow, the announcement of

light to come. A wide stripe of red rainbow on the horizon. Hours later, the sun

itself starts to peek up. The horizon on fire, weird atmospherics mean you can’t

distinguish between ice and sky. Sometimes ice, sometimes sky, no, that’s a mirage, that’s a

wavy wavy line of smoke along the horizon, and there is a fireball emerging, flat

and slow, to the east. So slow, you see the sun moving horizontally more than

vertically. When I go outside to dig melt tank at 9am, the horizon is red with a brighter

fiery region. When we finish digging at 9:30, the fireball has emerged, squashed,

wavy, working her way onwards, upwards, around the circumference we are at the centre

of. When I leave the Simpson platform at 10:15 (where I picked up a sledge for

manhauling gas cylinders back later in the day), the sun is almost risen, much further

around than before, and the sky light. By the time I reach my lab at 10:30, the sun has

risen, just. The world is light and daytime has begun, at last. Only a couple more

weeks before it doesn’t rise at all.

During the day, we’ve had the most amazing sights as well. Sundogs! Halos! Rainbows

and fogbows! Diamond dust in the sky. Immediately above, below and to the sides of

the sun are bright patches: a sun dog. If the fog comes in, you can see this is

in fact a halo all around the sun. And when the fog clears, you see the halo as a rainbow.

One day, walking between science platforms, I saw a double rainbow halo, both

circling around the sun. Sometimes the brightness doesn’t fade between the sun in the

middle and the bright spot below,- this is a sun pillar and you have to shade your eyes.

I have some photos; I’ll put them up when Felix gets back from Japan, but I want

you to imagine it first anyway. I’d seen photos before as well but you forget that it

fills the whole sky, the entire sky. And so bright! And so cold! The cold, now that

is reaching new extremes now as well!

The difference between thirty above and thirty below is noticeable (yes, NY readers, we’re

talking centigrade!). This evening, staring at the sky, it was below minus forty. And

it’s just getting colder. By default I wear three hats – the outer one a ‘mad

bomber’ made of dead rabbit and I have no qualms about it. If the hats don’t cover

your ears, they go white and then blister. Fingertips regularly lose feeling, and

when you come inside again, the pain is incredible as they warm up. Swinging arms like

a windmill, throwing all that warm blood to your extremities, works a treat.

Balaclavas are suddenly fashionable again. Well, maybe not fashionable but who gives a

shit about fashion when it’s below forty out there? We all look the same anyway.


days at -30 are seasons warmer than windy ones at -20 though. Nose tips, ear lobes,

toes, fingers, we were not designed for this climate! And whatever you do, don’t

touch metal with your bare hands.

But it’s glorious cold. As I said, a place of extremes, immensity, vastness, it all

makes sense. It’s bonkers. It’s great. It’s a million times better than living on

the moon.

3 thoughts on “Immensity

  1. Hi, Rhian!

    Your blog is becoming poetic! Well, it always was, but it’s becoming more so. Just very occasionally here (lat. 54 N) we get traces of the things you see almost routinely (sun dogs- now at last you have given me a name for them-, aurora etc., but hardly more than once in a lifetime). Wonderful that you haven’t become weary of seeing them and marvelling.

    So if I can’t compete with you on atmospheric chemistry, how about something more prosaic? Your mention of Primuses and Tilleys in your previous entry evokes thoughts about when I am at my happiest- camping in the wilds. Delighted to hear that there are still people who use these wonderful machines. I use them because I love their engineering, but why do you use them? Presumably because propane and butane freeze, and batteries slow down at low temperatures. But what about the simple and elegant Trangia alcohol stoves- don’t they work at minus 30? (Primus and Trangia- what is it about the Swedes that they show genius with camping stoves, of all things?).

  2. sorry i’ve taken so long to get back to you, over my first weeks cemo. Not been to good after it but getting better i will be starting again next month. bob and jane was telling me you had some holidays hope you had a good time and that you are keeping well. let me know all the gossip lots and lots of love

    delia and family

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