Enjoying the holidays, the Antarctic way

    We’ve had a little heat wave in the runup to Christmas, but in Antarctica the holiday forecast is always for extreme cold — about 12 degrees below zero.

    The world’s desertlike Southern-most continent has no permanent human residents, but several thousand researchers spent parts of the year there. A Delaware physicist has experienced December in Antarctica, and he says: It’s a good time!

    Tom Gaisser of Bartol Research Institute at the University of Delaware is part of the ongoing project “Ice Cube.” It’s a measuring station with thousands of sensors deep under the Antarctic ice, which collects data on subatomic particles called neutrinos.

    Neutrinos are one of the fundamental particles that make up the universe. With almost no mass and no electric charge, they are hard to detect.

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    “It’s science we do for its own sake, not because of its applications,” explained Gaisser. “The thing about neutrinos is that they can come from long distances away in the universe.”

    Cold as it is in Antarctica right now, this is the brief summer season, so Gaisser typically spends this time of year there. He likes to come home in time for Christmas, but got stuck there one year because of plane problems.

    Researchers go all out to celebrate the season, he said, including the tradition of a “race around the world.” “It’s easy to go around the world at the South Pole,” said Gaisser.

    The race tracks around the geographic South Pole where all lines of longitude converge. “People make it very elaborate, they make floats out of bicycles, people ski, there are some serious runners, who try to win the race, but, it’s really just a nice party,” he said.

    The race track is a bit over two miles long. And one of the main challenges of being out in Antarctic weather conditions is to protect your face and nose from the wind chill, he said.

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