Friday, December 22, 2006

Southern Constellations visit the Ice in Daylight!

Beginning this week, I’d noticed the large sign on the Recreation Board regarding volunteer sign up for the Stellar Axis project. My curiosity had the better of me and after looking up their website I put my name down. The Stellar Axis project was artist Lita Albuquerque’s creation – a representation of the constellations at the time of the solstices using blue spheres arranged on ice such that they would form a mirror image of the actual overhead sky. Astronomer Simon Balm had done a wonderful job with scaling the arrangement to fit within a circle around 400 feet in diameter using spheres of differing sizes to reflect the different magnitudes of the stars.

Today being the summer solstice in the Southern Hemisphere the first part of this project was held on the Ross Ice Shelf between Ross Island and White Island. Around 7 pm. after dinner, the 51 volunteers and the project team including Lita and Simon headed to the project site in the Terra Bus from McMurdo onto the Ice Shelf past Scott Base and Williams Air Field. It was a perfect evening with an almost cloudless sky.

We arrive at the Stellar Project site in the Terra Bus

Once at the site, Lita gave us brief instructions and took questions about various topics about the project. Our entire group of volunteers then gathered in the center of the arrangement and waited for the helicopter from McMurdo with its airborne photography crew to start its circling flybys. We then started following a marked spiraling route outward through the constellations with a rough spacing of about 20 feet between each volunteer. This was to indicate the path of the constellations in the sky as they appear to the rotating planet.

We begin our march into the center to begin the outward spiral

I’ve had the pleasure of speaking briefly to Lita and Simon about their fascinating project. They are both very cheerful personalities and were pleased with the results of their hard work. Lita explained that an underlying theme to the Stellar Axis was - once completed with operations in both hemispheres, the resulting movement of stars around the Earth’s axis would combine to form a double helix symbolic of DNA and life!

For more on Stellar Axis please see:

Aerial shot of the the Stellar Axis from the helicopter (courtesy Simon Balm)

The spheres of blue on the ice represent the stars above.

Volunteers, including me have fun around the constellations after the exciting event! Mt. Erebus is unusually quiet today with hardly a trace of steam.

A composite panoramic view from
the Stellar Axis site looking North to the 45 mile long Ross Island. From left: Ob Hill, Mt. Erebus (center), Terra Nova and Mt. Terror.

Mt. Erebus seen from a little closer on Dec 20.

White Island (20 miles long) seen from the Stellar Axis site.

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