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Living vicariously through brother's south pole adventure

Eric Bullock, second from left, and his entire team enjoy a fancy Thanksgiving dinner.1 / 3
My brother Eric on a day trip to the South Pole's pole marker.2 / 3
The two buildings Eric worked in, as viewed from the station. The one on the right is where the Keck Array telescope is, which is where he worked most of the time. The one on the left had a previous generations of the collaboration's telescopes, and a future of his team's telescopes should deploy next season. The large telescope on that building is the South Pole Telescope, run by a different collaboration.3 / 3

I am one of four children. I am the youngest daughter and have a younger brother. My poor brother grew up with three mean sisters who loved to tease him. But we all loved each other very much and enjoy spending time together as adults.

My brother Eric is really the genius of the family. Oh, my sisters and I are smart too. All of us have college degrees. But Eric excels in all things scientific. He has two bachelor's degrees in astronomy and physics. He is currently working on his doctorate in astrophysics.

Eric also works for the University of Minnesota and has been working with a collaboration of scientists from several Universities on a telescope in the South Pole. Most of his work has been done in Minnesota but he did travel to Boston this year and finally had the opportunity to travel to Antarctica to work on the telescope. He has been planning this trip for over a year. We, his family, were all very excited for him to be able to take this trip. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity that not many people get to experience and Eric would be experiencing it for eight weeks. We made a list of requests which included photos of Christchurch, McMurdo and the South Pole. We also wanted photos of wildlife, which turns out to be an impossible request. Apparently, there are no animals living so far inland on Antarctica.

Eric left in October, traveling first to Chicago, then to Los Angeles, followed by a flight to Christchurch, New Zealand, then on to the McMurdo on the Antarctic coast and finally on to the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. It took him six days to travel from Minneapolis to the South Pole. While he arrived, his luggage didn't until the next day. Oh, the joys of traveling.

Surprisingly, communication with my brother has been pretty consistent. He sends emails weekly, keeping us informed of his daily schedule, his work and his adventures. There was a time of approximately ten days when we did not hear from him. I worried that he had fallen into a crevasse or froze. However, we did get a phone call from him on Thanksgiving. It was wonderful to hear his voice and the connection was pretty clear. We spoke for about an hour. He told us that he had been really busy and that the entire station has to share Internet when a satellite passes overhead, which only happens about twice a day for an hour or so.

Eric spoke about the excellent food at Amundsen-Scott. They had a Thanksgiving feast that was four star restaurant quality. He told us that he had taken a snowmobile ride with a few others and that the snowmobile flipped, but no one was hurt. He spoke about the constant sunlight and how he was glad to have an interior bedroom that got dark so he could sleep. Antarctica only has one sunrise and one sunset a year. Right now, they are in the midst of a six-month "day."

While speaking with my brother, I could hear PA messages being played in the background. One message told all workers there was a fire emergency and to return to their quarters. I asked him if he had to get off the phone and he told me that the message was a false alarm, that they were working on their alarms in the ice cube research lab. An ice cube, like we put in our drinks? He laughed and explained that the ice cube lab actually drills down thousands of feet into the ice to get samples of ice that is several thousands of years old and they study it. That sounded much cooler than my initial thought, pardon the pun.

I can't explain what exactly my brother is doing down there, as I don't really understand it. I know he is working on the Keck Array telescope and the BICEP2 radio telescope with several other scientists, replacing hoses and taking readings. Beyond that, I don't know how he passes the time, only that he is really busy.

He also told me that he participated in a marathon down there.  When asked for more information, he said the racers run to a certain point, then run back to the station to warm up for a bit, then do it all over again and again until they have completed the marathon.  He also watched other scientists race around the world - run in a 2 to 3 mile circle through all the longitudes, effectively running around the world.  The prize?  A hot shower and bragging rights.  

If anyone follows England's royal family, they know that Prince Harry recently began an expedition with several wounded war veterans, traveling from the Antarctic coast to the South Pole for charity. Approximately 200 people work at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. They were all given an opportunity to meet Prince Harry and have photos taken with him. Eric planned on doing this, but because of a mixup with the time, he chose to skip it. Prince Harry's group was supposed to be arriving at 3 p.m.; instead they arrived at 3 a.m.

Soon my brother will be coming home. In fact, he is supposed to be home on New Year's Eve. We are all really looking forward to having him home for Christmas and being all together. I am excited about hearing more about his trip and seeing all of his photos. I have really enjoyed living vicariously through my brother's South Pole adventure.