lidars and lingonberries

I realize I have not yet said anything about where I am or what I am doing.  Let me explain.  I live at the Institutet för rymdfysik - the Swedish Institute of Space Physics - outside of Kiruna, Sweden, a town which squats on roughly the same latitude as Coldfoot, Alaska, the Kangerlussuaq fjord (Greenland), Lake Gorodetskoye (Russia), and the middle of Baffin Island.  Due to the proximity of the gulf stream, winter temperatures average around -15 C, but in the month I've been here, they have fluctuated between -35 and -3.5 (I didn't add the 0.5 to be cute; that data came from the institute weather station).  This minute, it is -3.9 degrees, and I'll bet every hill in town is crawling with miniature people chasing after sleds and slamming into snowbanks, turning them the color of lingonberries.  Technically, the sun has already set, but twilight will last for another hour or so.  It is about 1:30.

My job at the institute is...well, what it has always been.  I hunt clouds.  The greatest part about living here is that there are researchers here also trying to track polar stratospheric clouds.  And they have the world's best technology to do it.  Sheila has hooked up a spectrometer to a telescope the size of a small child and hopes to measure the light spectrum of a particularly nacreous cloud.  Peter shoots a lazer 50 kilometers into the atmosphere, measuring backscatter with a couple giant telescopes and a tangle of fiber-optic cables.  Last week, I helped him realign the mirror reflecting the beam via tiny motors contolled by computer.  When in the same room as the active lazer, we had to wear goggles that could have come from Arakis.  Since polar stratospheric clouds are usually only visible for a handful of days each winter, the window of opportunity to study them can be slim.  So I just keep watching.

For anyone Celsius-impaired, google has a handy built-in conversion tool just for you.  Search "-15 Celsius to Fahrenheit" and voila, a conversion.  This also works for just about any other unit you can think of, including bushels, cubits, hands...


  1. cool work - in every way!!! steven

  2. Oops!...

    via tiny motors contolled by computer

    So pleased to see Google take a stand on Chinese censorship. Very large can of worms.

    I find Elizabeth


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