Sunday, January 31, 2010

VAPoR field testing - Day 3

Day 3 started nicely with a pretty moon and a the regular hike up to the test site.

We're staying in the Hale Pohaku observatory lodges. Rooms are nice, food less... Shouldn't complain, but will: why can our field chef haul fresh everything to a dusty site and tastes/looks the canteen food here likes it's grown in the can it came from.. Well, shouldn't be too picky I guess.

Hale Pohaku Lodge, 7:10 AM

After an apparently coldish night we found a nice frost layer on the ground.

But also our setup at -5 °C. VAPoR is living a tent for the time being and had to shut down overnight, due to lack of generator power. Quickly started warming up and pumping to get the water out and the system back up. After about an hour everything looked fine again, time to run a background scan.

The science tents

While I was running the test Danny went out with the rest of the science teams and Kris-the-driller to get more samples from a different site than yesterday. We're sampling from different depths to measure if there are any differences in volatile content. One clearly visible difference is that the samples from 1 meter and below are much wetter than the top soil. Unfortunately, we need to get rid of this water first to be able to start measuring without saturating the mass spectrometer (residual gas analyzer, RGA), so we will not be able to show this difference in our data.

After exchanging the blank for a real (1-meter deep wet) sample and leaving that at 50 °C for a while to get rid of the water, it was time to start measuring our second real sample!

Sample preparation table

And then the RGA gave up..... A lot of trouble shooting later, it seemed that there's something wrong with the voltage going to quadrupole rods of the RGA, so we decided to leave it baking at 200 °C for a few hours to get rid of potential contamination and call the company tomorrow.

Lesson 1 - errors that NEVER happen in the lab WILL happen to you in the field.

Lesson 2 - do NOT be stupid and go back to the field site around 23.00 to fill up the generator to keep everything warm.

Around 15.30 we left the system up and running and hiked back to HP-lodge, where just after taking a shower I got a phone call that the generator had died (not out of gas, just dead). Sigh.. But, generator was replaced and by guiding the guy who replaced it, through the different panels on the front, everything seemed to be fine (apart from the bake out temperature that had dropped ~100 °C), so back up and running.

HP-lodge 15:30 (3:30 PM)

Time for a quick nap and dinner, and we took off for a speedy-gonzales trip up to the summit to watch the sunset. On the way to the car I managed to trip over nothing (is the altitude getting me after all?) and land on both knees, hiking tomorrow will be interesting with two bubbles, one on each knee. Pretty pretty pretty, especially with those telescopes in the foreground.

The test site from halfway to the Mauna Kea top.

Subaru, Keck 1, Keck 2.

View towards Kona.

Luckily, we learned lesson 2 quickly enough to implement it right away.

23:45 - generator refilled (thanks to Kris for driving me there), time to go to bed. 5:45 alarm goes off....

Saturday, January 30, 2010

VAPoR field testing - Day 2

Around 12 o'clock (midnight) the alarm in my room went off, which nearly got me a heart attack, especially since I was sure I had checked it was off.

The second attempt at 6 AM was more successful and after quick breakfast it was time to get going.

Becky and Danny hiking to the test site.

Some, probably native, plant.

Another, probably native, plant.

Very NON-native plant, to be removed by field participants when bored.

By 7.20 we had arrived on site and immediately started putting VAPoR together, nearly missing the morning briefing.

VAPoR field unit

Things went very smoothly, so by 9.10 AM everything was unpacked, the field unit was up and running and we decided to get some samples, while the system was pumping down. We started off by just sampling the grey and the yellowish soil across from the site, to test if we would find any differences in these samples.

Sample 1.

Sample 2.

Danny taking the second sample

When we got back to tent it was time to start our first run - a background analysis of an empty sample cell. That didn't turn out very well, since the oven wasn't drawing any current. Some fiddling around with a voltmeter learned us that there was a short or a broken wire somewhere in the oven. Result: even before the first analysis we're down to one oven. Let's keep our fingers crossed for the rest of the test (we're not starting cola and chicken offerings, yet).

The deceased oven ... ;(

What to do when you encounter a disappoint event.. Lunch!

The excellent chef.

Kris and our yummy lunch

After putting the second oven, which we tested before on shorting, in place, we started our second attempt. In the mean time I got the opportunity to collect a solar-illumination-sintered soil sample. The big sintering setup collect sun light and converts it through light fibers into a small spot that can reach about 900 °C and can sinter the soils, such that it forms a hard (asphalt-like) layer. I took a sample of sintered and un-sintered material to analyze how much of the volatiles are still left after sintering (probably very little, since it was heated to 900 °C).

The third set of samples was obtained in collaboration with Kris Zacny from Honeybee Robotics, who is (amongst 15 different things) testing a 5-meter long drill. We got samples from different depths, which will be analyzed by VAPoR, as well as by the Mössbauer spectrometer and the Multispectral Microscopic Imager. This collaboration will give a comprehensive data set of the volatiles, elemental and chemical composition of the soil at different depths.

1-meter deep sampling.

4 meter deep sampling.

Summary of the day, 1 blank analyzed, 1 sample analyzed, quite successful considering the start. Eating, breathing, and sneezing dust. No sun burn yet, not altitude sickness. All very well :)

Friday, January 29, 2010

VAPoR field testing - Day 1

Around 6 o'clock my internal alarm decided I had enough sleep, so time to get up and get going. 6 o'clock is my regular EST wake-up time, so no noticeable jet lag yet, in contrast to Danny, who was wide awake around 4AM.

After a very pretty drive up we arrived at the Hale Pohaku lodges at 9ish, found our rooms and headed for the Visitors Center where our equipment was already happily waiting for us. Since we didn't have a 4WD and the "transportation" people on site were extremely busy, it had to stay there and be happy for most of our day.

A winding and here and there very steep 1-mile dirt road led us to the actual field site, where we had to check in, get our badge, our very needed coveralls, and our walkie-talkies. The weather was great, making me wonder why I brought all that thermal gear, and coverall with t-shirt and shorts was sufficient. Sunscreen is a bare necessity, as is a hat and glasses and bandana to cover mouth and nose against all the dust. Dust-wise this is definitely a good lunar or Mars analogue.

The staging area of the field site

Day was mainly spend quietly, with having a great lunch, putting up our tent, waiting for equipment, chatting with random other field testers, having a 30-minute Pomelo-break, exchanging Dutch swear-words with first generation Dutch-Americans/Canadians (why is that the only people don't forget are the swear words, goal for this week, teach them some proper Dutch), finally getting our equipment and being too tired to set it up, and hiking back home.

Danny (left) and Tom putting up the tent (me being very helpful by taking pictures)

Danny was smart enough to bring some games, so I got my ... kicked in a game of Pass the Pigs and then beat him with Rummi.

Tomorrow the fun part starts!