While there are many unique aspects of the Antarctic environment, one of the most interesting that it shares with the northern pole is its preponderance of sunshine during the summer months. For the majority of people who have spent their entire lives in the mid-latitudes with its daily cycle of light and dark, it is difficult to imagine a world without darkness. In an effort to share this unique place with those at home, I decided to see if I could somehow capture the endless light that we are bathed in each day in McMurdo.
Since the sun moves through the sky each day, a statically pointed camera couldn’t fully convince you that the sun remains above the horizon on its daily course. Fortunately, I happen to have a background in building solar tracking mechanisms (Glory TPS), but lack the congressionally approved NASA budget that is usually required for such a task. After a bit of brainstorming, I came up with an interesting possibility that I thought just might do the trick. A 10 minute trip to Home Depot and $6 poorer, I had my very own solar tracking system (aka, an el-cheepo mechanical lamp timer!) to which I mounted my newly acquired GoPro Hero2 camera. A quick test one afternoon at home convinced me that I was on the right track, and then I was off on my expedition to Antarctica.
Shortly after my arrival in Antarctica, I explored the rooftop of the Crary science building and temporarily erected a mast and boom structure from which I hung my solar tracking camera with power provided by a 120VAC extension cord. Among the oddities of the southern hemisphere is the relative motion of the sun in the sky. The next time you watch the sun arc its way toward sunset, note which direction it is moving and try to imagine how odd the day would feel if it made its traverse in the opposite direction as it does in the austral hemisphere. This direction reversal caused quite a bit of head scratching and ultimately forced me to hang the rig upside down with the undesirable, yet inevitable introduction of the structure into the camera’s field of view each day.
The finicky weather never cooperated for a full day’s worth of sunshine, but on my third attempt, I managed to capture over two straight days of solar tracking with relatively nice cloud conditions which I spliced into the time lapse movie seen below. Sit back and enjoy the show!
With a sun that never sleeps, the natural question I get asked all the time is if I am able to sleep? Well, it’s amazing what hard work and some room darkening shades can do, because I have had absolutely no difficulty achieving restful sleep each night during my few short weeks in this upside down land!