Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Settling into Svalbard

This next installment of my blog is about the following few weeks after the safety week, settling into Svalbard, and seeing some incredible aurora.

Following the safety week, those of us from Aberystwyth University still had two exams to sit; Electromagnetic Theory, and Quantum Technology, and so we could not spend too much time relaxing, and instead had to cram on as much revision as we could. In addition to our revision, our lectures started on the Monday. Already enjoying learning about the aurora, and the atmosphere in which we live, and super excited to work hands on with the instruments that they have here in Svalbard.
Walking home one evening, I experienced my first snowstorm. Unlike the UK, when there is lots of snow here, and snowstorms etc, everyone just keeps going! The snowstorm started off really fun, there was snow going everywhere! However, as we were walking up the long road to Nybyen, along side a giant mountain, it suddenly got very intense. Here, I experience my first 'White out', where the snow was suddenly blowing around me everywhere to the extent you can see nothing by white, you cannot even see your hands in front of you. For wee English Jen, I got pretty panicked! After just learning about avalanches, and knowing I was right next to a giant snow covered mountain, I had visions of my life ending in a pile of snow! Silly me, this snowstorm is normal (apparently). After finally arriving home, my whole outer was frozen! Snow and Ice was everywhere, and had even managed to get inside my scarf, inside my coats, just everywhere! The first exam we sat was on the Wednesday. We do not talk of this exam anymore, and that tells you everything you need to know. Awful.

The weekend however brought some faith back to our run down mindsets, and Svalbard blessed us with some absolutely beautiful aurora, that lit up the skies. I was mesmerised by the colours, the structures, the movement, dancing across the sky above me. The aurora is one of the main things I am going to be studying here in Svalbard, which as we have learnt, has more than one kind of aurora. Typically most people are aware and see the nightime aurora. However Svalbard is one of the few places in which we can also observe the daytime aurora. Both aurora have many differences, including where the particles come from, and the types of emission that dominate.

Aurora in Nybyen, Svalbard

After a weekend of aurora and revision, Monday was time for our second and last exam (for now anyway). To our surprise, the exam went amazingly well, we all came out feeling optimistic and ready to celebrate! As we had finished our exams, and it was Chris’ birthday, we went to Svalbar to have food and drinks. Svalbar is one of the most popular restaurant and bar in Svalbard, especially for the students at UNIS, thanks to the famous Svalbar burger. Quite possibly the best burger I have ever tasted. To top off our day and evening, on leaving Svalbar to walk home, we were again greeted with beautiful dancing lights in the sky.

When we got home, I got my camera out and attempted a time lapse. Now as my DSLR has no automatic setting for this, and I have no remote to attach to do it for me, I sat patiently in the snow, continuously pressing the button to take photos. I managed to get about 200 photos in 20 minutes on 5 second exposure before my freezing cold fingers were yelling at me to go inside! Much to my dismay, I had not noticed that the camera was out of focus the whole time!! But, the aurora was so big and bright, this wasn’t overly problematic, and with the help of Brad, I managed to get a nice little time lapse video of the aurora (See in Video at the end!). I will keep trying for better ones though! It is definitely getting super cold though, my eyelashes keep freezing whenever im outside for more than 5 minutes!!
UNIS in the Polar Night

After weeks of complete darkness, the sun is slowly getting closer to the horizon. The sun is due to rise over the horizon on 15th February, however Longyearbyen will not have the sun shine onto it until around 8th March, due to the surrounding mountains. Nevertheless, we are entering what they call the blue period! Which is super pretty! Either side of midday, the town is illuminated by a beautiful light blue, which is slowly getting lighter, and lasting longer and longer each day. For the first time at the weekend, we were able to see so much more of the beautiful scenery that surrounds us. Stunning snowy mountains, glittery waters and a very Christmassy looking town as we walk down from Nybyen. Safe to say I’m very excited to see the sun soon, it definitely starts to feel quite weird living in darkness 24 hours of the day. One downside to this however is, once the sun first comes out, the days get longer and longer very fast. The day length gets longer by approximately half an hour each day. The 14th February is the last day that the sun is down all day, come the 19th April, the sun will be up all day until late August.
UNIS in the blue period

Next blog entry will be all about the Kjell Henriksen Observatory, and the amazing things we get to do there!

Ser deg seinare!

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