AMASE student blog: Lie-in!

19 August 2007

This morning was the first day of the trip we were allowed to sleep in - normally we have obligatory breakfast at 07:30 and obligatory morning-meeting at 9:00, but today our obligatory meeting was postponed to after lunch.

I slept straight through until 11:00 - 11 hours of sleep! Wonderful! And I'm pretty sure I could do that again tonight if I was permitted ;-)

When I woke up Ashley (who I share a room with) came in to tell me there were walruses on the beach, however, we're not really sure yet. There are many walrus shaped and coloured rocks on the beach, but we are too far away to confirm that they are in fact walruses - when our scouting expedition from this morning came back it was in fact confirmed that they were just walrus-shaped rocks ;-)

By now we're waiting for the 13-o'clock meeting to begin to find out what we'll be doing today. We have arrived at our next site, Wahlenbergfjorden, where none of us (including our expedition leaders) have ever been before - it's a brand new site for the AMASE expedition - and apparently we passed 80 degrees north at 02:15 this morning. The trip here wasn't nearly as rough as we'd been warned it would be, there was a slight roll, but personally I find that soothing.

I keep remembering stuff I've forgotten to put in my blog - little things like seeing baby-polar bear footprints on the beach below the rover (the real CliffBot) site on the 16th, and the amazing experience of seeing the field test site from the 15th in real life.

We had looked at the images from the 'human-rover' but never realized that it all took place on a 40 degree slope as the camera (Kjeld Ove) was tilted to the same degree. The depth perception was very different and many characteristics of the area had been lost because of the fact that the images we received on the ship were black and white) or describing the Raman instruments in relation to yesterdays test.

The Raman analyzer basically emits a green laser (the portable Raman uses a red laser) at the area of interest and it then records the emitted Raman scattering which is displayed on the computer screen. The real Raman uses a telescope to look at the area of interest, which can be up ~20 m away, while the portable one requires the laser and detector to be held just above the area of interest.

The real, full size Raman analyzer is a huge instrument, weighing, I think, between 50 and 100 kg. It was deployed on the 15th on the Friedricksbreen glacier, but it had to be brought there and back by helicopter. As we don't have a helicopter available every day, it may be difficult to deploy the full size Raman in the field again, but it can be used to analyze samples brought back to ship.

The portable Raman weighs ~35 kg so it's easier to drag around in the field, however I feel bad for poor Pablo Sobron who's carrying everything on his back - he may be 2 m tall and a big strong guy, but still. The hikes are not easy when you're carrying just a few kg - can't imagine what it'd be like with 35 kg on your bag (well actually I can - I'd never get anywhere).

To my own big surprise (and the surprise of anyone who knows me, I'm sure) I'm finding I actually enjoy this whole hiking thing - it's very satisfying when you actually arrive at your destination, even though I never thought it'd be possible to be that warm walking around in a t-shirt and a thin wool-sweater in ~0 degrees Celsius. My problem, when I get home, will be finding anyone to go hiking with me I suppose ;-)

Today it seems I'll have to stay on board ship working on the sampling database system - it's getting difficult to keep track of somewhere between 30 and 50 samples in my head alone, knowing that another 50 should be coming during the next few days - or today depending on people's stress levels. I would have liked to go to shore briefly, but I really need to sort this out, and we'll stay in this site until the 21st before going to our 3rd site, Ebbadalen, which should be a ~26 hour trip.

I've spent most my time editing and entering samples into the database and talking to the crew on the bridge - especially Terrier, the first mate, who is slightly bored - he has a dream of learning how to dive, only he can't swim - that's a very cute idea, a sailor that can't swim, but it seems that many sailors never learn, nor want to learn. I once heard the reasoning that if your ship goes down the honourable thing to do is to go with it, besides, knowing how to swim if the ship sinks in the middle of the Pacific, just gives you false hope. Personally I think I'd prefer false hope to no hope, but still.

Tonight we had two talks from the different people on board, one from Paul Mahaffy and Jennifer Eigenbode on SAM and one from Steve Squyres on the MER science operations process.

The SAM instrument is an organic analyzer - it basically differentiates an organic sample by making it volatile and sending it through a chemically coated tube which is 30 m in length and heated. This differentiates the different compounds present in the organic sample, as they will travel at different speeds through the tube.

The output from the tube is then detected as time/intensity and passed on to an ionization chamber (where the sample is bombed with electrons and ionized) and then sent through and RF field which will essentially cause a mass differentiation to take place which is then detected as mass/intensity/charge and compared with the time/intensity detection and through this the compound and it's relative presence in the organic sample is determined. This can be very helpful when searching for life as the organic presence can be identified.

Steve Squyres' talk mainly concentrated on the requirements for people working on rover-based field investigation, talking about how simplified our field test from the 15th (until the 17th) was - how many more tasks and requirements and difficulties exists in real life when operating a rover on Mars.

After the talks Steele gave us sort lecture on how difficult it can be recognizing micro-fossils in rocks. He gave 5 pictures on possible micro-fossils found in Martian meteorites, none of the participants in the expedition could tell the real micro fossil from the false ones, even after being informed of several conditions (such as the rock composition and the carbon content).

Very interesting illustration - personally I do neither geology nor biology (I do technology and physics), but I'm learning a lot about these areas that I never thought I'd enter.

After the talks we watched the Top Gear programme where they cross the North Pole in an SUV... Now that's funny!

I have also received data for around 30 more samples to enter into the system so I have my work cut out for me tomorrow when the server-computer is available again (right now it's doing a slide show of the MIB pictures for general entertainment, and I'm on the verge of going to bed).

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