Black Hole Back Doors?; Io’s Atmosphere; No New Stars in Galaxy Center

Posted August 5th, 2016 at 3:50 pm (UTC-5)
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A computer-generated image of the light distortions created by a black hole. (Credit: Alain Riazuelo, IAP/UPMC/CNRS)

A computer-generated image of the light distortions created by a black hole. (Credit: Alain Riazuelo, IAP/UPMC/CNRS)

Do Black Holes Have Back Doors?

Most people describe a black hole as a cosmic object with gravity so strong that it sucks in any kind of material that comes close to it.

What happens to stuff that is pulled into a black hole?

Some scientists think that matter that enters a black hole gets crushed into a tiny point at the center called a “singularity” and is destroyed.

A new Spanish study proposes that matter may survive its trip into a black hole and then exit out its other side.

The study suggests that the black hole’s singularity could be compared to an imperfection in the geometric structure of space-time such as a wormhole.

According the researchers, after an object enters the black hole it would be stretched or “spaghettified,” which allows it to enter the wormhole. The object would then be restored to its normal size after exiting the wormhole.

Artist’s concept of the atmospheric collapse of Jupiter’s volcanic moon Io. (SwRI/Andrew Blanchard)

Artist’s concept of the atmospheric collapse of Jupiter’s volcanic moon Io. (SwRI/Andrew Blanchard)

Weird Things Happen to Jupiter Moon Io’s Atmosphere Every Day

Scientists, writing in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Planet, have found that the thin atmosphere of Io, one of Jupiter’s major moons, freezes, collapses and turns into surface frost every time it’s eclipsed by the giant planet.

The researchers found that once sunlight returns to Io its atmosphere, then reforms through a process known as sublimation, that’s when material that’s frozen solid quickly changes into gas without first turning into liquid.

The researchers noticed that when Io’s temperatures drop from -113 to -132 degrees Celsius its atmosphere begins to deflate.

As a result of tremendous volcanic activity it has been determined that a majority of Io’s atmosphere is made up of volcanic gases, mostly sulfur-dioxide.

Io, is considered, by scientists, to be the most volcanically active body in the entire solar system.

Jupiter eclipses Io for two hours of its day, every day. One day on Io equals about 1.7 Earth days.

An artist's impression of the implied distribution of young stars, represented here by Cepheids shown as blue stars, plotted on the background of a drawing of the Milky Way. (University of Tokyo)

An artist’s impression of the implied distribution of young stars, shown as blue stars, plotted on the background of a drawing of the Milky Way. (University of Tokyo)

Study: No New Stars at Milky Way’s Center

A new study finds a huge region at the center of Milky Way is devoid of young stars.

A team of Japanese, South African and Italian astronomers, writing in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, found that there are no Cepheid stars an area that extends to some 8,000 light years from our galaxy’s center.

Cepheid stars are said to repeatedly pulsate in brightness and are quite young, between 10 and 300 million years old, compared to our 4.6 billion year old sun.

Astronomer Giuseppe Bono, one of the study’s authors, said their research shows there has been no significant star formation in this large region of the Milky Way for over hundreds of millions years.

The researchers analyzed observations made in the near-infrared light range, since looking for stars so deep in the galaxy can be difficult. Accumulations of interstellar dust can block out light and can hide many stars from view.

(otodo via Flickr/Creative Commons)

(otodo via Flickr/Creative Commons)

Scientists Develop New Method to Convert CO2 into Fuel

A number of studies have linked increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide with global warming and climate change.

Because of this, scientists have focused a lot of their research efforts in trying to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.

In process known as photosynthesis, trees and other plant life take CO2 in the air and with help from the sun converts it to sugars that store energy.

Now, a new study from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Illinois at Chicago, offers a new method that could allow for the conversion of carbon dioxide into a usable energy source in a manner similar to photosynthesis.

Trees and plants use natural enzymes to help spark the CO2 conversion to sugars.

The study proposes the use of a metal compound called tungsten diselenide to help convert the greenhouse gas into usable fuel such as methanol.

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

The beginning of the end of night at the South Pole

Posted August 2nd, 2016 at 9:57 am (UTC-5)
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With only a week left of perfect nighttime conditions, photographers around station are trying to capture their last images of the Aurora Australis and Milky Way. (Photo: Darren Lukkari)

With only a week left of perfect nighttime conditions, photographers around station are trying to capture their last images of the Aurora Australis and Milky Way. (Photo: Darren Lukkari)

Stars and auroras fill the night sky.  They blink and swerve through the darkness, like race cars on a dark, winding, celestial freeway.  For four months, they have been my steadfast companions, joining me on my walk to and from the Atmospheric Research Observatory (ARO) each morning.  On calm, clear days, they cast green and white light  downwards with such intensity that I can occasionally see my shadow and the forms and curves of the ice cap– everything bathed in ghostly colors, the auras of a cold, harsh and indifferent world.

On the darkest days, when the air is so cold and the wind so still that you feel like you’re floating in television static, I’ll drop to the ground and lay on my back, and view the night sky in repose.  The Milky Way spins above me, its origin directly overhead. Billions of stars, each a distinct pinprick of light, each crying out the infallible laws of nature, which–if you hold your breath and quiet your beating heart–you can almost hear.

After four months of darkness, many on station are eagerly awaiting the arrival of brighter days. Of course, the rising of the sun means a duller view of the cosmos. (Photo: Kyle Obrock)

After four months of darkness, many on station are eagerly awaiting the arrival of brighter days. Of course, the rising of the sun means a duller view of the cosmos. (Photo: Kyle Obrock)

Astronomical twilight has begun, and though the night sky looks no different, from this day forward, each day it will become imperceptibly lighter out.  Distant stars will begin disappear and the brightest will begin to dim.  The auroras will still be visible, though less vibrant.  They will fade from a bright green to a dull purple, and then finally evaporate, blending into the leaden sky like campfire smoke.

In a week, the moon will rise, so in a sense, this is our final week of pure darkness, our final week to trace spy satellites through the sky and count shooting stars.  The moon, the South Pole’s pale sun, will bathe the ice cap in light, and obscure all other celestial phenomena.  It will be bright enough to walk to ARO without tripping over myself, to see the silhouette of the facility from a quarter-mile away and to wander without fear of getting lost, off the flag line and into the never-ending expanse of the polar plateau.

By the time the moon sets, about two weeks after it rises, the sun will sit just 12 degrees below the horizon. It will be nearly as light out as when the moon was full and high.  This is the start of nautical twilight, when distant landforms, hills and mountains, or in our case, drifts and the hard, wind-swept ridges of snow known as sastrugi, become visible on the horizon—when the ice cap begins to take on shape and transform from a uniform black expanse into a landscape with observable topography.

The perfectly dark and clear night skies will disappear when the moon rises in one week. By the time it sets, only the brightest stars and planets will still be visible. (Photo: Christian Krueger)

The perfectly dark and clear night skies will disappear when the moon rises in one week. By the time it sets, only the brightest stars and planets will still be visible. (Photo: Christian Krueger)

The sun won’t be visible at this point, but you can trace its daily transit around the horizon—an orange and blue glow at the intersection of the night sky and the earth.   Each day, the glow growing more intense, the sun spiraling upwards more rapidly.  Each day, the stars disappearing into the greying sky, the auroras becoming more amorphous and dull.

A colorful winter will give way to a pallid spring; a welcome change, carrying promises of vitamin D and warmer weather.

Refael Klein
Refael Klein is a Lieutenant Junior Grade in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Officer Corps (NOAA Corps). He's contributing to Science World during his year-long assignment working and living in the South Pole.

July 2016 Science Images

Posted August 1st, 2016 at 4:19 pm (UTC-5)
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This NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image, released 7/25/16, reveals the vibrant core of the galaxy NGC 3125. The galaxy is located about 50 million light-years away in the constellation of Antlia. (ESA/Hubble & NASA, Judy Schmidt)

This NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image, released 7/25/16, reveals the vibrant core of the galaxy NGC 3125. The galaxy is located about 50 million light-years away in the constellation of Antlia. (ESA/Hubble & NASA, Judy Schmidt)

The Solar Impulse 2 plane comes in for a landing in an airport in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, early 7/26/16 and completes its circumnavigation of Earth. The Solar Impulse 2 was able to make it’s a complete trip around the world without a drop of fuel, powered solely by the sun’s energy. (AP)

The Solar Impulse 2 plane comes in for a landing in an airport in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, early 7/26/16 and completes its circumnavigation of Earth. The Solar Impulse 2 was able to make it’s a complete trip around the world without a drop of fuel, powered solely by the sun’s energy. (AP)

The Soyuz MS-01 spacecraft is seen two hours before it launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on 7/7/16. The rocket sent expedition 48-49 crewmembers Kate Rubins of NASA, Anatoly Ivanishin of Roscosmos and Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to the International Space Station. (NASA)

The Soyuz MS-01 spacecraft is seen two hours before it launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on 7/7/16. The rocket sent expedition 48-49 crewmembers Kate Rubins of NASA, Anatoly Ivanishin of Roscosmos and Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to the International Space Station. (NASA)

Pokemon Go the smartphone game application released on 7/6/16 has already become a worldwide phenomenon. Here a Pokemon Go player finds Exeggcute, a Pokemon, at Bayfront Park in Miami, FL on 7/12/16. (AP)

Pokemon Go the smartphone game application released on 7/6/16 has already become a worldwide phenomenon. Here a Pokemon Go player finds Exeggcute, a Pokemon, at Bayfront Park in Miami, FL on 7/12/16. (AP)

A successful developmental test of RS-25 rocket engine No. 0528 was conducted on 7/29/16 at NASA’s Stennis Space Center, near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. The RS-25 engine will be used for the most powerful rocket in the world – the Space Launch System (SLS), which will launch humans deeper into space than ever before, including on the journey to Mars. (NASA)

A successful developmental test of RS-25 rocket engine No. 0528 was conducted on 7/29/16 at NASA’s Stennis Space Center, near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. The RS-25 engine will be used for the most powerful rocket in the world – the Space Launch System (SLS), which will launch humans deeper into space than ever before, including on the journey to Mars. (NASA)

A robot that will be used to produce lithium-ion batteries at the new Tesla Motors Inc., Gigafactory is displayed on 7/26/16, in Sparks, Nev. (AP)

A robot that will be used to produce lithium-ion batteries at the new Tesla Motors Inc., Gigafactory is displayed on 7/26/16, in Sparks, Nev. (AP)

This is an artist impression of the triple star system HD 131399, which is a mere 320 light years away. Astronomers who used a telescope at the European Southern Observatory in Chile announced their discovery on 7/7/16. (L. Calçada/ESO)

This is an artist impression of the triple star system HD 131399, which is a mere 320 light years away. Astronomers who used a telescope at the European Southern Observatory in Chile announced their discovery on 7/7/16. (L. Calçada/ESO)

An Amorphophallus titanium, known commonly as the corpse flower begins to bloom on 7/28/16 at the New York Botanical Garden in New York. This rare plant’s scent, released during a 24–36-hour peak, is said to smell like rotting flesh. It is the first time since 1939 that the New York Botanical Garden displayed the stinky plant as it bloomed. (AP)

An Amorphophallus titanium, known commonly as the corpse flower begins to bloom on 7/28/16 at the New York Botanical Garden in New York. This rare plant’s scent, released during a 24–36-hour peak, is said to smell like rotting flesh. It is the first time since 1939 that the New York Botanical Garden displayed the stinky plant as it bloomed. (AP)

This is the heart of the Crab Nebula as captured by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. This stunning image was released to the public on 7/8/16 features the nebula’s central neutron star. Scientists say it spins at a rate of 30 times per second which produces a visible pulsating appearance, much like a beating heart. (NASA/ESA)

This is the heart of the Crab Nebula as captured by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. This stunning image was released to the public on 7/8/16 features the nebula’s central neutron star. Scientists say it spins at a rate of 30 times per second which produces a visible pulsating appearance, much like a beating heart. (NASA/ESA)

SpaceX’s Dragon cargo spacecraft, sitting atop a Falcon 9 rocket, was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on 7/18/16. Among the 2,268 kilograms of cargo it carried were instruments to perform the first-ever DNA sequencing in space. (NASA/Tony Gray)

SpaceX’s Dragon cargo spacecraft, sitting atop a Falcon 9 rocket, was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on 7/18/16. Among the 2,268 kilograms of cargo it carried were instruments to perform the first-ever DNA sequencing in space. (NASA/Tony Gray)

The humanoid robot, "Alter," is displayed at the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in Tokyo. The robot features human-like movements of arms, fingers, the upper torso, its head as well as facial expressions. The exhibition runs until 8/6/16 in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

The humanoid robot, “Alter,” is displayed at the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in Tokyo. The robot features human-like movements of arms, fingers, the upper torso, its head as well as facial expressions. The exhibition runs until 8/6/16 in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

Here are the aquanauts of NASA’s Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) 21 mission, which began on 7/21/16. The 16 day simulated space mission is being held at the Aquarius Reef Base, located nearly 19 meters below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The purpose of the mission is to evaluate tools and mission operation techniques that could be used in future space missions. (NASA/Karl Shreeves)

Here are the aquanauts of NASA’s Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) 21 mission, which began on 7/21/16. The 16 day simulated space mission is being held at the Aquarius Reef Base, located nearly 19 meters below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The purpose of the mission is to evaluate tools and mission operation techniques that could be used in future space missions. (NASA/Karl Shreeves)

Scientists with NASA's Dawn mission were surprised to find that Ceres has no clear signs of truly giant impact basins. This image shows both visible (left) and topographic (right) mapping data from Dawn. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI)

Scientists with NASA’s Dawn mission were surprised to find that Ceres has no clear signs of truly giant impact basins. This image shows both visible (left) and topographic (right) mapping data from Dawn. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI)

On 7/19/16 Astronomers using data from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission announced that they have discovered an X-shaped structure in the bulge of the Milky Way, which is located in the center of our galaxy. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/D.Lang)

NOn 7/19/16 Astronomers using data from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission announced that they have discovered an X-shaped structure in the bulge of the Milky Way, which is located in the center of our galaxy. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/D.Lang)

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

Where are Ceres Large Craters?

Posted July 27th, 2016 at 12:39 pm (UTC-5)
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Scientists with NASA's Dawn mission were surprised to find that Ceres has no clear signs of truly giant impact basins. This image shows both visible (left) and topographic (right) mapping data from Dawn. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI)

Scientists with NASA’s Dawn mission were surprised to find that Ceres has no clear signs of truly giant impact basins. This image shows both visible (left) and topographic (right) mapping data from Dawn. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI)

After NASA’s Dawn spacecraft had passed by the asteroid Vesta, on its way to rendezvous with Ceres, mission scientists noticed that its surface was banged up with a lot of very large craters.  Its biggest impact crater is Rheasilvia, which measures 505 km in diameter.

They expected that Ceres would also be seriously pitted with giant impact basins too.

According to computer simulations of the geological history of Ceres, created by the Dawn scientists, the largest object in the asteroid belt, was supposed to have between 10 to 15 craters that were more than 400 km across and at least 40 craters at least 100 km wide.

NASA's Dawn spacecraft photographed Vesta as it passed the dwarf planet on its trip to Ceres. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCAL/MPS/DLR/IDA)

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft photographed Vesta as it passed the dwarf planet on its trip to Ceres. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCAL/MPS/DLR/IDA)

After all, reasoned the scientists, it had to be hit a number of times by large asteroids over its some 4.5-billion-year history.

But after Dawn arrived at its destination back in March, 2015 the scientists were surprised to see that, unlike Vesta, Ceres didn’t have as many large craters as they expected.

The Dawn spacecraft revealed that Ceres has only 16 craters bigger than 97 km across and none were as large as its Kerwan basin, which is about 285 km wide.

Scientists used data gathered by Dawn to create more computer simulations.

According to a new study published in the journal Nature, these models are proposing that Ceres’ geology has undergone a significant evolutionary process, which could have rubbed out its big craters.

“We concluded that a significant population of large craters on Ceres has been obliterated beyond recognition over geological time scales, which is likely the result of Ceres’ peculiar composition and internal evolution,” said team leader Simone Marchi of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado in a press release.

Artist concept of NASA's Dawn spacecraft heading toward the dwarf planet Ceres. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Artist concept of NASA’s Dawn spacecraft heading toward the dwarf planet Ceres. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

While Ceres may not have the number of giant craters that was expected, the scientists did find, after continued study, that it has three huge “planitiae” or ground indentations that measure nearly 800 km across.

They suspect that the depressions may actually be the remains of big asteroid impacts.

Dawn science team member and planetary scientist David Williams from Arizona State University suspects several things may be behind the disappearance of big craters on the dwarf planet.

“If Ceres were highly rocky, we’d expect impact craters of all sizes to be preserved. Remote sensing from Earth, however, told us even before Dawn arrived that the crust of Ceres holds a significant fraction of ice in some form,” explained Williams.

He suggests that the crust of Ceres would become weak if it once held a good amount of ice which perhaps also mixed with salts.

An example of cryovolcanism are the ice volcanoes on Saturn's moon Enceladus shown in this photo snapped by NASA's Cassini spacecraft (NASA)

An example of cryovolcanism are the ice volcanoes on Saturn’s moon Enceladus  in this photo snapped by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft (NASA)

This weakening of the crust then would allow the structure of a large impact basin to relax to a point where it would become smooth and maybe even disappear.

Another way the large craters could have flattened or vanished may be due to heat that may have been generated beneath the dwarf planet’s surface soon after its formation by the decay of radioactive elements.

“Plus we do see evidence of cryovolcanism — icy volcanism — in the bright spots found scattered over Ceres, especially in Occator Crater,” adds Williams Cryovolcanism behaves like the rocky kind, only at much lower temperatures, where “molten ice” — water or brine — substitutes for molten rock.

Dawn’s scientists will continue to keep an eye on the dwarf planet when it when it makes its closest approach to the Sun in April 2018.

As it travels closer to the Sun, the Dawn science team wants to see if solar heat generates any odd behavior on Ceres or produces any noticeable changes to its surface.

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

Water, water, everywhere… and all of it frozen

Posted July 26th, 2016 at 2:37 pm (UTC-5)
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The view from atop Castle Rock. On the horizon you can see open water. (Photo by Refael Klein)

The view from atop Castle Rock. On the horizon you can see open water. (Photo by Refael Klein)

Despite being surrounded by the world’s largest supply of fresh water, the South Pole is driest place on earth. Not a drop of liquid H2O exists—not for hundreds of miles in any direction. Temperatures, which never climb above freezing even on the warmest days of summer, keep our fresh water supply frozen—locked away in plain sight.

Of course, without access to water, Amundsen-Scott Station wouldn’t be here. Water is essential to our everyday living, from cooking meals and mopping floors, to doing the occasional load of laundry and flushing toilets. During an average winter day, the South Pole station uses over 4500 liters (1200 gallons) of fresh water. In the summer, this number can quadruple.

So where does all this water—the cure for our parched mouths, cracked lips, and dry tongues, the source of our most prized luxuries, warm showers and hot coffee—come from? How do we meet our never-ending demand for the elixir of life?

In short, we melt it and pump it into the station.

Ice tunnels run from the lowest level of the main station to the base of the rodwell. Large, heated, insulated pipes carry the water to the station’s treatment plant. (Photo by Refael Klein)

Ice tunnels run from the lowest level of the main station to the base of the rodwell. Large, heated, insulated pipes carry the water to the station’s treatment plant. (Photo by Refael Klein)

Though basic in concept—apply heat to ice to make fresh water—the process has evolved greatly, especially in the last 20 years. Originally, the station used a massive water maker that had to be manually filled with snow, and heated using warm glycol. This was an energy-intensive set-up and the heavy equipment took a beating, especially during the colder winter months.

In the 1990s, the station switched from the above-ground water maker, to a specially designed “Rodriguez Well,” named for Army engineer Raul Rodriguez, who originally came up with the idea.

The rodwell, as it’s known, is “dug” using a hot water sprayer to melt through the top 30 meters (100 feet) of the ice-cap—an uncompressed layer of snow and air, known as the firn—and burrow into the more dense ice layers below. A pump is lowered into the hole, and hot water warmed by exhaust in the power plant is flushed into the well. That melts more ice, which is then pumped back to the station.

A dizzying trip from the depths of the rodwell up to the surface of the icecap.

Unlike more traditional wells, the rodwell’s effective lifespan is fairly limited. As the well produces more and more water, it becomes deeper and wider. When it reaches a depth of 150 meters (500 feet), it’s no longer efficient to continue pumping water to the surface, and typically a new well is drilled.

The rodwell building houses the entrance to the rodwell as well as the pumps that push and pull water to and fro from the main station. The two hoses from the large coil (right) carry water out of the rodwell at just above freezing, and deliver warm water to melt more snow and ice. (Photo by Refael Klein)

The rodwell building houses the entrance to the rodwell as well as the pumps that push and pull water to and fro from the main station. The two hoses from the large coil (right) carry water out of the rodwell at just above freezing, and deliver warm water to melt more snow and ice. (Photo by Refael Klein)

We are currently on the station’s fourth rodwell. This one is about 30 meters (100 feet) below the firn and holds more than 700,000 liters (190,000 gallons) of water. By the end of its life span, it will have produced more than five times that.

Polies, looking for fresh, untreated, 600 year old ice water, can quench their thirst at the aptly named "mineral water" spigot in the water treatment plant. (Photo by Refael Klein)

Polies, looking for fresh, untreated, 600-year-old ice water, can quench their thirst at the aptly named “mineral water” spigot in the water treatment plant. (Photo by Refael Klein)

As you can imagine, the water we get at the South Pole is some of the purest available on the planet. In fact, there are so few dissolved minerals in it that we end up having to run it through a limestone matrix to increase its mineral content. If we didn’t, it would strip the solder from our pipes and be unhealthy to drink.

Even so, if you are eager to try the fresh “unadulterated” liquid goodness, straight from the depths of the icy continent’s frozen ocean, you can, at a spigot found in our water treatment plant. Bizarrely, the water doesn’t taste much different than the water anywhere else.  It’s flavorless, cold and thirst-quenching.

Like the rings on a tree, you can tell the age of any layer of ice by measuring the number of rings above it. With the bottom of our rodwell 60 meters (200 feet) below the surface of the ice-cap, we are melting water from the 15th century. Every time I lean over the water fountain, I’m drinking water that was frozen by the time the Incas built Machu Picchu, and Christopher Columbus set out on his journey across the Atlantic. It’s a bizarre feeling—poor man’s time travel at the bottom of the world.

Refael Klein
Refael Klein is a Lieutenant Junior Grade in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Officer Corps (NOAA Corps). He's contributing to Science World during his year-long assignment working and living in the South Pole.

They’re Sure It Exists, But Scientists Still Unable to Detect Dark Matter

Posted July 23rd, 2016 at 12:55 am (UTC-5)
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Artist impression of the Milky Way. The blue halo of material surrounding the galaxy indicates the expected distribution of the mysterious dark matter. (ESO/L. Calçada)

Artist impression of the Milky Way. The blue halo of material surrounding the galaxy indicates the expected distribution of the mysterious dark matter. (ESO/L. Calçada)

Back in 1933, Caltech astronomer and astrophysicist Fritz Zwicky was observing the Coma cluster, a large group of galaxies located some 321 million light years away in the Coma Berenices constellation.

He noticed the speed of the galaxies rotating within the cluster was much faster than the quantity of its mass he had calculated.

According to Isaac Newton’s theory of gravity, Zwicky thought this difference should have caused the galaxies to spin-off from the cluster.

So, he then figured that for all his observational information to add up with Newton’s theory, along with matter that could be seen, the cluster also had to contain a good amount of some kind of material that couldn’t be seen.

He called this invisible substance “dark matter.”

This false-color mosaic of the central region of the Coma cluster combines infrared and visible-light images to reveal thousands of faint objects - green (NASA / JPL-Caltech / L. Jenkins (GSFC))

A false-color mosaic of the central region of the Coma cluster. (NASA / JPL-Caltech / L. Jenkins (GSFC))

In the years since Fritz Zwicky’s finding, researchers have been trying feverishly to make an actual detection of dark matter.

Most are quite sure of its existence because of the gravitation influence it has on various cosmic objects, such as what Zwicky found with the Coma cluster in 1933.

The way light bends as it makes it way through space is another clue scientists say also points to dark matter.

NASA says this mystery material makes up roughly 27 percent of the known or observable universeDark energy, the force said to be responsible for the expansion of the universe, is thought to make up nearly 68 percent while normal matter, the things we can see and touch, makes up the remaining 5 percent.

Now, some 83 years after Zwicky’s discovery, a group of scientists say that despite searching for twenty months, with what is said to be the world’s most sensitive dark matter detector, they still have not been able to directly detect even a trace of the mysterious stuff .

Scientists with the Large Underground Xenon (LUX) dark matter experiment, presented findings of their experiment’s final run at the Identification of Dark Matter 2016 conference (IDM 2016), held this past week in Sheffield, England.

The dark matter experiment was conducted at the Sanford Underground Research Facility, located  beneath a little more than 1.6 km of earth and rock in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

The scientific consortium found that the sensitivity of their detector, a 370 kg liquid xenon time-projection chamber, was four times greater than they expected. They contend that if any dark matter particles had actually interacted with their device – it would have pointed them out.

To search for dark matter the scientists say their experiment was set-up to look for WIMPS, otherwise known as Weakly Interacting Massive Particles, which is where they think they’ll be able to find dark matter.

Inside the water tank of the LUX detector: The vessel at the center is filled with liquid xenon, which is sensitive to hypothetical dark matter particles called WIMPs. (C. H. Faham/LUX Collaboration)

Inside the water tank of the LUX detector: The vessel at the center is filled with liquid xenon, which is sensitive to hypothetical dark matter particles called WIMPs. (C. H. Faham/LUX Collaboration)

They theorize every second, billions of these WIMP particles are actually passing through our bodies, everything that surrounds us and through the Earth itself.

According to the scientists, we don’t notice this continual bombardment because the interaction of these WIMP particles with ordinary matter is quite weak.

Over its last 20 month run – October 2014 through May 2016 – the researchers say their experiment gathered and then analyzed nearly 500 terabytes or 500,000 gigabytes worth of data.

While they were unable to actually detect any dark matter, the LUX scientists say their experiment did eliminate a good number of possible models where the WIMP particles might be found.

The LUX team says their research and findings will also help future investigators in their hunt for dark matter.

The LUX-ZEPLIN (LZ) experiment, which is set to replace LUX at the Sanford Underground Research Facility will continue the search some time in 2020.

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

X Marks the Spot; New Radiation Monitor on ISS; 3D Astronomical Map

Posted July 20th, 2016 at 3:22 pm (UTC-5)
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NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission observed and gathered data of the entire sky twice in 2010. Astronomers then used the data to find the X-shaped structure in the bulge of the Milky Way. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/D.Lang)

NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission observed and gathered data of the entire sky twice in 2010. Astronomers then used the data to find the X-shaped structure in the bulge of the Milky Way. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/D.Lang)

X Marks the Center of the Milky Way

When we hear “X marks the spot,” many of us might think of old pirate maps and where treasure is supposedly buried.

But “X marks the spot” could also have more of a cosmic meaning, thanks to a new study published in the Astronomical Journal.

The study’s two authors say that the X, in this case, marks the center of the Milky Way galaxy.

Using data from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE space telescope, a configuration of stars forming the letter X was could be seen within the galactic bulge located at the heart of the galaxy.

NASA describes this bulge as a round structure of tightly packed material that includes old stars, gas, and dust. The space agency says the Milky Way’s bulge is about 10,000 light years across.

While previous reports have mentioned the central X structure, the authors say data gathered for their study provides the clearest indication of the X shape so far.

Grooves and gashes near the moon's Imbrium Basin have long stumped astronomers. New research examined these features to estimate the size of the object whose impact created this lunar feature. Researchers found that it was big enough to be considered a protoplanet. (NASA/Northeast Planetary Data Center/Brown University)

New research examined grooves and gashes found near the moon’s Imbrium Basin  to estimate the size of the object whose impact created this lunar feature. (NASA/Northeast Planetary Data Center/Brown University)

Lunar Impact Basin Created by Huge Asteroid

Researchers have recently determined an asteroid that smashed into the moon some 3.8 billion years ago to form the Imbrium impact basin was more than 241 kilometers across, which is much larger than thought.

Previous estimates, based solely on computer models, have indicated the asteroid was only about 80 kilometers in diameter.

Sizable areas of the huge crater formed by the impact were later filled with basaltic lava and other materials.

Writing in the journal “Nature,” the scientists from Rhode Island’s Brown University suggest that the asteroid that formed the Imbrium basin was so enormous that it could have been classified as a protoplanet, an object that later can become a planet.

Based on the sizes of other impact basins, not only on the moon but also the planets Mars and Mercury, the scientists say their findings also suggest that the early solar system was full of protoplanet-sized asteroids.

The researchers made their findings after conducting experiments at NASA’s Vertical Gun Range at the Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California.

Wearable units of the new European Crew Personal Active Dosimeter – EuCPAD – system for active radiation monitoring of astronauts in orbit. ((c) ESA)

Wearable units of the new European Crew Personal Active Dosimeter (EuCPAD) system for active radiation monitoring of astronauts in orbit. ((c) ESA)

New ESA Radiation Monitoring Tool Sent to ISS

Radiation is among the many health dangers that humans face in outer space.

For crewmembers aboard the International Space Station radiation exposure is currently monitored with a number of instruments.

Individual radiation doses are also measured with a device called the crew passive dosimeter (CPD), which is carried by each ISS crewmember for the duration of their time in space.

But these devices are only read and processed after the astronaut returns to Earth.

A more sophisticated personal monitoring instrument developed for the European Space Agency has been included in the recent shipment to the ISS.

Called the European Crew Personal Active Dosimeter (EuCPAD), this new device will provide crewmembers with a real-time picture of their radiation exposure.

The new system, which can distinguish radiation from the sun, the Van Allen belts or from the far reaches of the galaxy, will also help scientists prepare for deep space travel.

This is one slice through the map of the large-scale structure of the Universe from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and its Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey. (Daniel Eisenstein and SDSS-III)

This is one slice through the map of the large-scale structure of the Universe from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and its Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey. (Daniel Eisenstein and SDSS-III)

1.2 Million Galaxies in New 3D Astronomical Map

A research team, made-up of hundreds of physicists and astronomers from throughout the world, have built the largest 3D map of distant galaxies that has been created so far.

They claim the map has allowed them to precisely measure of dark energy, a mysterious force that scientists say is behind the current accelerated expansion of the universe.

To produce the map, the team took measurements over a five-year period of some 1.2 million galaxies that reside in one quarter of the sky or about 650 cubic billion light-years of the universe.

The measurements used to construct the map came from the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey or BOSS, which is a program of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey-3.

The researchers say their new map allows scientists to measure just how fast the universe is expanding, which will help them to figure-out the amount of matter and dark energy that makes up our Universe.

Hops on the Vine in Oregon (Visitor7 via Wikimedia Commons)

Hops on the Vine in Oregon (Visitor7 via Wikimedia Commons)

Key Beer Ingredient May Someday Reduce Breast Cancer Risk

Among the important ingredients used to make beer are hops, the seed cones of the hop plant. They’re also used in the manufacture of dietary supplements to help women relieve post-menopausal symptoms.

Now, lab tests conducted by a research team at the University of Illinois at Chicago has found that an enhanced hops extract could also someday be used to ward off breast cancer.

Researchers created compounds from the fortified hops extracts and then applied them to two different breast cell lines.

They wanted to see if any of the compounds had an effect on the metabolism of estrogen, something that’s considered a key process in breast cancer.

A compound, called 6-PN was created from the fortified hops extract and preliminary test results are suggesting that it could have anti-cancer effects.

But additional research must be conducted to further investigate possible helpful effects of the hops-based compound.

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

Sticking with a Daily Routine at the South Pole

Posted July 19th, 2016 at 2:35 pm (UTC-5)
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I arrived in Antarctica on a clear, sunny day in October, 2015.  The Mount Erebus volcano dominated the horizon, sending large clouds of steam and smoke high into the air.  Minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit (-28C) felt cold at the time, and watching my breath glide from my mouth and disappear into the landscape was hypnotizing. Like living through a Dali painting, I was melting into the continent and the continent was melting into me.

NOAA's Refael Klein walks to work at the South Pole. (Photo by Hunter Thomas)

NOAA’s Refael Klein walks to work at the South Pole. (Photo by Hunter Davis)

To step off the grey LC130 and stand on the McMurdo ice runway was the culmination of a boyhood dream– a romantic adventure, a challenge I couldn’t refuse– a one year assignment to work as the Station Chief to the Global Monitoring Division’s Atmospheric Research Observatory (ARO) at the South Pole.  Twelve months stretched in front of me, one 6 month long day and one 6 month long night, filled with ice crystal clouds, brilliant stars and dancing auroras. Most people would live their whole lives without experiencing those sights, but not me!

Now, eight months in, two-thirds of the way through my assignment, I’m experiencing another side of the Polar experience: extreme tedium, the result of an endless routine and an ever-present night, so thick and dark that even one’s imagination feels smothered.

During long deployments as a Deck Officer on board NOAA’s fleet of oceanographic research ships, I learned the best way to make the best of life in a confined space, to keep yourself sane when your existence begins in your head and ends at the horizon.  On the ocean – liquid or frozen, it makes no difference – finding a routine and mustering the discipline to stick with it is key—as important as a sense of humor or a warm pair of mittens.

There is no beginning or end to my week.  I walk to ARO each morning, and return each afternoon.  I haven’t missed a day of work since I arrived on station.  If I’m sick, I walk to work. If it is minus 100 degrees Fahrenheit (-73C), I walk to work.  If I broke my foot, I would limp to work.  My walk, as heinously cold as it can be, reminds me of where I am, an existential fact that becomes harder and harder to recognize the more time you spend inside the windowless, odorless, 70 degree (21C) world that we call our Station.

Long winter nights mean ample opportunity to pursue hobbies and recreation. Some hone their carpentry skills, others write novels, the author hones his climbing skills in the station's bouldering cave.

Long winter nights mean ample opportunity to pursue hobbies and recreation. Some hone their carpentry skills, others write novels, the author hones his climbing skills in the station’s bouldering cave.

After work, I work out. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, I go to the gym, and spend an hour on the stationary bike or treadmill.  Sometimes, I’ll lift free weights for a few minutes afterwards, but usually it’s just an hour of cardio, enough to get through an NPR podcast about the Flint, Michigan water crisis or watch an episode of this or that on the gym’s flat screen television.

Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, I make the quarter-mile trek to the summer camp gym, and spend an hour and a half climbing on the green, blue and pink plastic holds that make up the South Pole Climbing wall.  Sometimes, I’ll do calisthenics afterwards—a few pushups and crunches, but usually it’s just 90 minutes of climbing, enough to get through half an episode of KDVS radio station’s New Day Jazz or Crossing Continents.

Sweaty and tired, I make my way back to my room, take an Amundsen-Scott Station regulation two-minute shower if it is a Cardio Day, change clothes and walk the 101 feet (30 meters) that separate my room from the entrance to the galley.  Dinner is served from 1700 to 1830. I always arrive at 1800, and try to finish in a half-hour, so I can get my dirty dishes into the dish pit before it closes.

A good selection of cardio equipment and weights helps chase away the winter blues. Many on station use the Antarctic winter to train for Marathons, Long distance hikes and other rigorous pursuits.

A good selection of cardio equipment and weights helps chase away the winter blues. Many on station use the Antarctic winter to train for Marathons, Long distance hikes and other rigorous pursuits.

It’s evening now, and thanks to an exhausting and cold walk back and forth from ARO, and another hour plus spent exercising in a more traditional manner, I’m ready to sit down on the couch in the greenhouse and read for a few hours, or appropriate the television in the station’s lounge to watch a movie–a musical, a B-movie, or a Criterion Collection Classic. Regardless of what I watch, I’m swept away; the sterility of the ice cap makes it exceptionally easy to become engrossed in anything that isn’t frozen, arid and dark.

If it’s a Sunday, I’ll squirrel myself away in my room early and begin to write my weekly blog.  I’ll write about what happened that week, about the nuisances of my routine, about the research projects I help operate, about the occasional departures from the ordinary: a good meal, a good laugh, or an exceptionally bright full moon.  I’ll write in prose, and in coded messages that only those in the know can decipher.  I’ll write in lists and doodle in between the lines, trying to keep my thoughts lucid and find the words that bring my polar adventure – the excitement and the tedium – to life.

 

Refael Klein
Refael Klein is a Lieutenant Junior Grade in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Officer Corps (NOAA Corps). He's contributing to Science World during his year-long assignment working and living in the South Pole.

Space Snow Spotted; Frankenstein Galaxy; Fewer Allergies for Thumb Suckers

Posted July 13th, 2016 at 4:00 pm (UTC-5)
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Artist impression of the water snowline around the young star V883 Orionis, as detected with ALMA. Credit: A. Angelich (NRAO/AUI/NSF)/ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)

Artist impression of the water snowline around the young star V883 Orionis. ( A. Angelich (NRAO/AUI/NSF)/ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO))

Astronomers Spot Snow Circling New Star

For the first time, astronomers have been able to get a glimpse of a water “snowline” in a protoplanetary disk, which is the material surrounding a new star that may later form into planets.

This water “snowline” marks the point within these left overs of star formation where the temperature and pressure drop to a point to allow water ice to form.

These “snowlines” usually form closer to a star whose light overwhelms any possible observation.

In this case it was formed farther out than normal from the star, identified as V883 Orionis, so astronomers were able to image it with the ALMA radio telescope in Chile.

It’s believed that a sudden and significant increase in the brightness of the star is what pushed the “snowline” out to where it could be seen.

The astronomers say that this phenomenon is about 6 billion kilometers from the star, comparable to the orbit of Pluto in our solar system.

Piston of a 3.5 L (210 cu in) Ford EcoBoost gasoline direct injection engine (Wikimedia Commons)

Piston of a 3.5 L (210 cu in) Ford EcoBoost gasoline direct injection engine (Wikimedia Commons)

New Gas Saving Cars May Add to Climate Change

Many drivers today prefer vehicles that use less petrol and cost less to operate.

But a new Canadian study suggests that although fuel-efficient technologies may provide more miles per gallon, some of these new gas saving internal combustion engines could actually contribute to climate change.

To provide their customers with vehicles that offer high performance, while using less gas, automakers have been turning to a small new type of fuel-efficient engine known as the gasoline direct injection, or GDI engine.

The study found that that while GDI engines emit less carbon dioxide, they also produce higher levels of the climate-warming pollutant black carbon than traditional engines.

The researchers suggest installing more effective filters in GDI engines, at the risk of slightly lower fuel-efficiency, but preserving the technology’s net benefit for the environment.

Say hello to the Frankenstein or UGC 1382 galaxy. Low density hydrogen gas shown in green (NASA/JPL)

Say hello to the Frankenstein or UGC 1382 galaxy. Low density hydrogen gas shown in green (NASA/JPL)

Frankenstein Galaxy Detected

Lying some 250 million light years away, in what is described as a quiet and unexceptional section of the universe, astronomers have discovered a gigantic and quite unusual galaxy.

What makes UGC 1382 such an oddity is that they believe it was formed from the parts of other galaxies.

So they’ve nicknamed it the Frankenstein Galaxy, after the fictional monster made from body parts taken from various corpses.

At first this mammoth galaxy was thought to be just a tiny, old and normal galaxy.

But after sifting through data gathered by a couple of NASA’s space telescopes, along with several ground based telescopes, the astronomers realized that the galaxy was a rotating disk of low-density gas that’s seven times wider than the Milky Way.

Thumb Sucking/Nail Biting Kids Develop Fewer Allergies

A New Zealand based study suggests that children who are exposed to microbial organisms at an early age, through thumb sucking or nail biting, are less likely to develop allergies.

The study finds that children that engage in both of these habits are less likely to develop allergies to common triggers such as house dust mites, grass, cats, dogs, horses or airborne fungi.

Researchers at New Zealand’s University of Otago made their findings from data gathered by the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Study.

The long-term study followed into adulthood about one-thousand participants who were born in Dunedin, New Zealand in 1972 and 1973.

Despite their findings, the researchers say that they are not suggesting that children be encouraged to engage in thumb sucking or nail biting, since it is still uncertain if there are any real health benefits from acquiring these habits.

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

Fixings for a Feast at the South Pole

Posted July 5th, 2016 at 1:34 pm (UTC-5)
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Seventy thick, grass-fed buffalo strip steaks sat in front of me, each individually vacuumed-sealed in a clear plastic bag—red, red meat, wrapped in a red, red film of Myoglobin and water. I found myself a large, green plastic cutting board and an open section of stainless counter next to a deep sink, then I grabbed a red plastic-handled serrated paring knife and a pair of disposable latex gloves—size medium. In the next hour, each one of those steaks would need to be opened, trimmed, patted dry and seasoned.

This was going to be a bloody mess—a hell of a way to celebrate the middle of winter.

It's a rare sight to have the entire station in one room at the same time, but even the most introverted can't say no to the delectable treats that the kitchen prepares for Mid-Winter Dinner. (Photo by Refael Klein)

It’s a rare sight to have the entire station in one room at the same time, but even the most introverted can’t say no to the delectable treats that the kitchen prepares for Mid-Winter Dinner. (Photo by Refael Klein)

A week ago, a sign-up sheet had been posted at the entrance of the galley to recruit volunteers for midwinter dinner— a celebration of the solstice. It was a call for extra stewards to help set-up the banquet, pour drinks, serve appetizers and bus tables, and extra dishwashers to clean up afterwards. Having always enjoyed entertaining, I decided to add my name to the list, and lend my services as an amateur waiter, sommelier, cicerone, and expediter.

Dressed in my only nice non-uniform clothes, a pair of fitted green-grey chinos and a blue and black flannel I had picked up from a small men’s store in Brooklyn, I waltzed into the galley. Appetizers were scheduled to be served in the foyer in 30 minutes, and I knew the head-chef, Darby Butts, would need someone to un-cork bottles of wine, ice sodas and arrange cheese and charcuterie platters for service.

In the South Pole kitchen, three men in white aprons, black pants and baseball caps, were busy at work—filling pastry bags with mousse, rolling out mounds of dough and whisking dressings. They were a sight to behold, a well-oiled machine, working in near silence with a precision and focus that was as palpable as a humid August day in Washington, DC.

Not wanting to interrupt their ballet, I stood at the entrance to the kitchen with a glass of water in my hand, and waited for a break in the chopping, a joke or expletive, some type of opening in which I could ask, “what do you need me to do?” without disrupting their cooking cadence, which had reached the extreme speed and power of a Japanese bullet train. To interrupt them at the wrong moment could derail them—and I didn’t need a severed finger or a burnt pastry resting on my conscience.

“Get your ass in here,” said Darby with the devilish grin of a young boy who had just finished popping all the heads off of his younger sister’s Barbie Dolls. “You see all these steaks?” referring to a mountain of red meat overflowing from a hotel pan. “You are our new prep cook, anything the Sous needs you to do, you do, starting with these,” picking up one of the flaccid steaks like a rag doll and indifferently throwing it back onto the pile. With a bewildered “Okay,” I found an apron and got to work.

Busy at work, Chef KC Loosemore prepares shortbread pastry shells for his Peruvian Cocoa Nib Mousse Tarts. (Photo by Refael Klein)

Busy at work, Chef KC Loosemore prepares shortbread pastry shells for his Peruvian Cocoa Nib Mousse Tarts. (Photo by Refael Klein)

We had one hour to get things ready and set in the steamer line. The steaks would be cooked to order, but they all had to be prepped and staged next to the grill before the galley doors opened, and 48 tipsy, hungry and excited individuals found their seats at two long, white tableclothed banquet tables that had been decorated with candles and origami swans.

Adrenaline racing, I worked with a singular focus—cut, trim, dry, salt, pepper, repeat—  until three cookie pans were packed with steaks, staged and ready for their communion with fire. With fifteen minutes remaining, I wiped down my counter with soap and bleach, cleaned my knives and ran my cutting board through a large industrial sterilizer.

When I returned to my work station, a plastic grocery bag filled with herbs—mountain mint and fresh basil—lay where my cornucopia of buffalo once sat. Before I could say a word, the Sous handed me a 10-inch chef’s knife, and gave me a one word command: “chiffonade.” I nodded, dropped my head, and began picking the aromatic leaves off their spindly branches—pick, stack, chop, repeat—until the pound of herbs had been tamed into a pile of evenly ribboned confetti.

I looked at my work, and breathed a sigh of accomplishment. It had been eight months since I did any cooking, and I managed to get through an hour of it without making a total fool of myself or severing a major artery.

The first people began to enter the galley, making their way to their seats, with half-finished bottles of wine, mingling with each other with the combination of ease and restlessness that can only be found among those who are two-thirds of the way through a one-year contract at the South Pole.

The kitchen continued to hum, the finishing touches frantically put onto each dish as it was nestled into position on the line atop the steamer trays. I ran a platter of pastries to the dessert table– Peruvian Cocoa Nib Mousse Tarts, garnished with cashew florentines and thin triangles of coconut and chocolate caramel. With extreme self-control, I managed to not pick one off the tray and eat it with my bare hands. Instead, I removed my apron and sat down at a special table that had been reserved for those volunteering that night.

Having spent the last hour plus in the kitchen, I knew the menu inside and out: Grilled bison strip steaks with black truffle demi-glace, potato gnocchi—the last of our fresh potatoes—tossed in a white truffle cream sauce, channa masala tossed with fresh herbs, roasted asparagus wrapped in phyllo dough with a honey balsamic reduction, and a beautiful, fresh green house salad with herb vinaigrette and house-made ciabatta croutons. And those tarts!

Perhaps even more challenging than working as a prep-cook in the kitchen, is figuring out how to maximize the area on your plate and the room in your stomach. (Photo by Refael Klein)

Perhaps even more challenging than working as a prep-cook in the kitchen, is figuring out how to maximize the area on your plate and the room in your stomach. (Photo by Refael Klein)

Rich and tempting aromas rolled off the line, and while some say the Winter Site manager gave a spirited speech—as is tradition– I can’t recall it, so focused was I on the decadent foods I was about to pile high on my plate. And I’m sure I contributed to the quiet drone of rumbling stomachs that could be heard throughout the galley.

This was going to be a night to remember—a five star meal at the bottom of the earth.

Refael Klein
Refael Klein is a Lieutenant Junior Grade in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Officer Corps (NOAA Corps). He's contributing to Science World during his year-long assignment working and living in the South Pole.