You are here

IceCube, Part IV

January 15, 2010

A telescope that's under construction is a bit more challenging than most. That's because it's being installed more than a mile deep in the ice at the South Pole.

YECK: You do all the planning you can and you still don't always get it right. Once you're on the ice and you encounter a problem, you need people that are the McGyver types, that can figure out how to solve a problem with whatever's available to them in a very short period of time. [:15]

Jim Yeck directs the project, called IceCube. It's looking for ghostly particles that rarely interact with other matter, but that carry important information about the universe.

IceCube is looking for these particles with sensors installed deep in the ice. Drillers use high-pressure hot water to drill holes that are two and a half kilometers deep. They'll drill 86 holes in all, and drop a string of sensors into each one. The drilling is taking place right now, during summer at the pole.

Jim Haugen is one of the project's managers:

HAUGEN: It's challenging. It's white, bright and cold. The Sun just spins around in a big circle for the whole time you're there, which I think is one of the hardest things to get used to. One thing many people don't know about the pole is that it's at 10,000 feet altitude. So not only do you have a lot of gear on, you're huffing and puffing until you get used to that altitude, especially if you're not in the best of shape. Here in Wisconsin we've hired mechanical engineers that also come off of dairy farms -- great skill set for people down on the ice. Sometimes you might not have the exact tool that you need, or the right replacement part, and you've just got to figure out what to do. There's no such thing as FedEx overnight to the South Pole. [:41]

IceCube is already working. But it won't reach full capability until construction is completed next year.

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2009

Get Premium Audio

Listen to today's episode of StarDate on the web the same day it airs in high-quality streaming audio without any extra ads or announcements. Choose a $8 one-month pass, or listen every day for a year for just $30.