Friday, December 22, 2006


On December 22nd 2006, after a week of installing the Stellar Map on the Ross Ice Shelf, Lita Albuquerque conducted a performance using an Archimedian Spiral, and 51 volunteers from the McMurdo base. Starting at the center, the participants walked out along the spiral arms to the boundary of the installation taking 10 minutes to complete the journey. The star map around which they spiraled mirrored the sky above on the Southern Hemisphere's Summer Solstice. The event was filmed from a helicopter hovering above.

(Go to to view a 1 minute quicktime file of the aerial footage - requires good bandwidth)

Photos by Jean de Pomereu

(Aerial photos: Simon Balm)

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


55 to go

A helping hand: Deany

Lita and first visitors from the station (McMurdo)

Mission accomplished - Jean, Lionel, Sophie, Lita and Simon (Photo: Michael Deany)

99 Spheres
99 Stars
1 Stellar Axis

Saturday, December 16, 2006




Strike a pose!


Time out...


Perhaps the most challenging day so far. After our “breakfast” at 5:30 p.m. we head out to the site once more, Jean and Lionel in the Pisten Bully, Simon, Sophie and I on the skidoos. This time it is our last time skidding over the sea ice. The ice is starting to melt and it is getting too dangerous, we have to change our route to the other side through Willie Field, Snow Mass, and Scott Base.

I am enjoying this last ride, where the sensation of flying across the sea encircled by mountains is inebriating. As soon as we get to our camp, Simon realizes he has forgotten his GPS, bad news, since we were plotting the fourteen 24” spheres this morning, and again, for safety measure, two skidoos at a time must go, I volunteer, to get once more that blast of speed across the sea. This time coming in, that gasping sensation is seeing McMurdo Station nestled in the Volcanic rock, it is here looking at what seems like a coal mining town with cardboard buildings, that my heart is warmed by what is giving me life at this moment, this engine of a place, where we are fed and kept warm. It is on this icy surface of the sea, that I become aware of our dependency of this place, and I move toward it as a young born toward its mother.

As soon as Simon comes back out with his GPS, we go out once more to our site, where Sophie has already unpacked all the 24” and 19” spheres, assembled them and already to go out. We spend the rest of the evening, laboriously bringing the spheres one by one to their exact position. Then three at a time on a sled, first Simon plots the exact positioning of each star, then we drill the hole, then we put in the pole, then we manage to wrangle the bottom half of the sphere onto the pole then very laboriously turn the other half upside down and turn it maybe 30, 40 times as it wobbles on this very thin thread, while someone else holds the dead man strings so that the entire sphere does not spin out of control off of its rod.

I can hear Jean singing, “Come on, let’s twist again…” in the background. We then have to dead man every single sphere in two places, we run out of string, can only do one, then have problems with three of the rods, need rethreading, walking through the very soft sugary snow, sometimes sinking in over one foot deep is laborious and difficult, but we are in good spirits. Around 1:00 a.m. we need a break, I had bought a bottle of Merlot in the galley, and Lionel, Frenchman that he is, and wine-maker at that! Brought our card table out in the snow with four plastic cups and the bottle he opened ceremoniously and we waited in the cold until Jean finished his master shot, looking for food, but accepting that we only had nuts and chocolate, I start getting cold, in fact freezing, and start flipping out how cold my fingers are, Jean tells me to go into the Pisten Bully to get warm, I get in there, cover myself with all types of clothes I could find in my bag, and when I look up again, it is 5:00 a.m. and my team had been working for four hours on their knees in the icy surface, dead manning the fourteen 19” spheres while I had already had a half night’s rest! Needless to say it was a moment.

Friday, December 15, 2006







Jean & Simon

24 Spheres
We have had so many changes in our schedule. Last night was the first night that we had a complete night shift; it is when we put in the star Sirius. By the time we came back to the Crary Lab and finished with our emails we went to bed at 5:00. A.m. I awoke at 11:15 a.m. got up at Noon, and after doing my laundry for the first time (clean woolen socks is the best of luxuries) I was able to spend from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. finally doing some writing and straightening out the diaries.

I went and wrote in the Library. There is a panoramic view of all the mountain ranges over the sea ice and today the Royal Societies Mountain Range appeared from under the clouds for the first time, the beauty makes you want to cry, and also the history: I am sitting in the Library full of original manuscripts and rare books on Science and the Antarctic.

I feel like I am in a light house with a panoramic window looking straight South, at the gateway to the South, which lures me and has lured me since the day in 1978, when I was in the Tunisian desert going toward the Sahara, and here I am, almost twenty years later, almost reaching the uttermost Southern point on the planet.

To get to the South Pole we have to be extremely political. We were told we were a very popular group with the community, all this thanks to Simon and his charm, finesse and diplomacy. We need those good marks with the NSF, cross our fingers it will happen, Simon is working on it.

12.15.06 – 12.16.06 5:00 P.M. TO 5:00 A.M.

After dinner, the pisten bully is ready, loaded with Lionel and Jean and all the camera equipment. The three skidoos driven by Simon, I am in back of Sophie and two volunteers, Bill Josla and Julie go out to the site over the sea ice once more.

The road over the sea ice always makes my heart sing, I feel so free in this icy scape with the mountains encircling us, going full speed in the freezing weather to our site. The sea ice condition changes from moment to moment, and navigating the skidoo through the new condition is always a challenge and a triumph. Then there is the thrill of the flagged road straight ahead of me until the bend in the road and I gasp as Mt. Erebus suddenly appears.

Being in the middle of the circle of the horizon of the earth as we are at our site, everything changes as we move, the mountains move in back of certain landmarks, it is easy to get disoriented, and one always is. We arrive at our site around 8:00 p.m. and the magic of the light starts happening. I am anxiously anticipating seeing the star “Sirius” for the first time, since it feels like we gave birth to it the night before, it was so difficult putting it in, and like a new mother, I jump off the skidoo to look over my newborn only to discover that some huge tractor had laid deep tracks straight across our site. We had been so careful with footprints, now the snow was deeply scarred. We decide to move the center of the installation over to be away from this mark, which meant to remove Sirius, no easy task.

Jean forgot his tripod and we had to skidoo back to McMurdo to pick it up. We can only travel in two skidoos for safety, so I went back with him, enjoying every moment of this speed across the ice. The rest of the evening is spent putting in the next two sizes of spheres: the three 38”, and the four 30” each one a little cumbersome, but we have figured out a way of working as a team in an assembly line.

Thursday, December 14, 2006


Finding the centre...

A very big Christmas present

Practical joke: 99 red spheres...

Ultramarine blue: How they really should be!

Unpacking Sirius. The biggest sphere.

Lita and Sirius in two halves


Drilling to harness Sirius

Sirius installed. 98 stars to go...

Sophie & Simon

Today is a momentous day, we have been here one week exactly, and tonight we put up the first sphere: the largest one, four feet in diameter, the one aligned to the star SIRIUS. We have started our night shift, the first full one. After a three-hour nap, we have "breakfast" (dinner for everyone else, curry soup, bread, salad) around 5:30 p.m. then head out once more straight toward our site. Simon, Jean and I on our skidoos, Lionel and Sophie in the Pisten Bully carrying our gear. The road straight onward toward Pegasus road, over the sea ice and in the speed of the skidoos is once more, and always, exhilarating. I stop to get my camera out even with the speed and the cutting wind, I have got to show what this experience is like, the vast expanse of the white, the straight lined flagged route with red flags, the exhilaration of driving in the middle of what seems to be a volcanic lake, in the middle of the sea ice, surrounded by white mountain ranges, as if we are in the middle of the earth, little insects speeding along the white expanse, black marks from the air, black marks after a little distance really, and the sense of scale gets obfuscated by our own senses, what seems to be common sense and what we are experiencing, we lose each other quickly in the expanse, then speed up of course, and catch up with one another. In the distance is our camp: the bright orange/yellow tent we had put up the night before and the large sled with all six of our cardboard crates in the middle of the landscape. Somehow the slow Pisten Bully has arrived before us, and Lionel and Sophie are waiting behind their film cameras to shoot us as we drive in. They too, are small marks on the landscape until we make the wide turn onto our site.

8:00 P.M. - 1:00 A.M.
The light at this time of "night" is exquisite and ever changing. At one point Erebus reveals itself behind a cloud and we are overwhelmed at its beauty. It is quiet, very quiet, except for the crunch of our footsteps in the sugary powder snow. The first order of things is for Simon and I to find the "center" of the site around which the entire map will be created. We walk for a while until I "feel" the right spot. " You are spot-on" Simon tells me in his clipped Cockney accent, as the 500 feet away from the edge I intuited is what as we had calculated was going to be correct. I love those mathematical precisions that come intuitively.

The next few hours feels like what they call in childbirth "transition" the worst pain ever, where you wish you had never thought of this idea to begin with, where you curse every possible curse in the book as Simon, Jean, Sophie and I first try and put the four-foot sphere together, which halves kept falling into one another, once that is overcome, Simon, Jean and I, have to carry this very heavy, very awkward shape five hundred feet over the sugary snow where our feet sink in sometimes a foot into the snow. When we get to the site, the entire sphere falls on top of Jean, and he lays there, Charles Atlas, the globe victorious over him. Nothing prepares us for the next three hours. Drilling the hole is no problem, the snow is like sugar, we think we have it licked, then comes the time to lift the awkward-god- knows- how-many-pounds sphere by its post and by our shoulder strength, we all crouch under it and lift it with our shoulders, then direct the post into the hole. Well, it does not go in all the way. No matter how many times we dig it, the snow is so fine it acts as sand, and keeps filling up the hole, every time we have to lift it out and away, and back again. We think we have finally found a method, by taking one of our posts and pounding it in and using it as a core drill, until Simon does such a good job, that we can not take it out again. We have to go all the way back to the sled and pick up the straps and use all the man power we have to pull it out, it still does not work, and although I am ready to quit and leave it for the next day, thank god I am voted out, as everyone does it over and over again (at one point we dig too low, and it is buried slightly, we have to re do it) but no one quits until it is correctly at the level of the snow.

1:00A.M. - 2:00 A.M.
As we look at this perfect blue sphere in the middle of the whiteness with the light of the sun, at one o’clock in the morning, a sun which feels should come from another direction, the reason we had all come to the other end of the world to do this, becomes obvious right here in front of our eyes. There is no way to describe it, except to say that in its opaqueness of blue, it draws into itself all the energy of the mountains around it, as if the blue takes in all the whiteness around it and transforms the icy blue into ultramarine. In its blue opaqueness surrounded in white, with the sun behind us, our shadows are cast onto it, like in a mirror. None of this makes sense, how opaqueness can be reflective, how one blue object in the middle of the white field can embody the entire field. Perhaps it does indeed have to do with the alignment to the star Sirius, there is a resonance that occurs that is mysterious and indescribable, I feel that is all we need, this one object in the middle of space, as if it has always been there, and should always be there, as an anchor, anchoring us to the earth and to the stars. As my entire body takes it in, I am moved by it, some deeply asleep part of me is moved and is slowly, very slowly stirring. For Jean, “it reminds me of the monolith in Stanley Kubricks's 2001: A mysterious object of great beauty, the nature of which nobody knows, but which has somehow landed on the surface of the moon.” As I move back toward the truck to help Simon pack all our gear, I have engraved in my mind the image of Lionel, Sophie and Jean in the distance, being mesmerized and drawn to the quality of light it is becoming, shooting the light changing all around it, in the light that envelops all of us at two o-clock in the morning of December 15, 2006.