IceCube and the Askaryan Radio Array


Now Archived! Antarctica Day Celebration event with Lesley Anderson and Dr. Jim Madsen on Monday, 4 December 2017. You can access this and other events on the PolarConnect Archives site.

What Are They Doing?

Photo by Jim HaugenA DOM (Digital Optical Module) being lowered into the ice. Photo by Jim Haugen. Why go to the bottom of the world to explore the universe? Because it is a nearly ideal place to study one of the most elusive particles known, the almost massless subatomic messenger called the neutrino. The IceCube Neutrino Observatory at the South Pole searches for neutrinos from the most powerful astrophysical sources: events like exploding stars and extreme environments around black holes and neutron stars. This requires a large detector, and IceCube is the largest detector by volume ever built, encompassing a cubic kilometer of instrumented ice. That much ice weighs more than all the people in the world!

The fully built Askaryan Radio Array (ARA) project will have an effective volume 100 times larger than IceCube. The tradeoff is that it will only be capable of observing radio waves from interactions with extremely high energy neutrinos, a million times more energetic than the neutrinos produced by cosmic rays in the atmosphere. IceCube studies those lower energy atmospheric neutrinos, 100,000 per year, to learn more about neutrino properties, including their ability to transform from one type to another.

The universe is a huge and mysterious place that is largely unexplored. New technologies and creative approaches allow us to see things that aren’t directly viewable. Neutrinos will reveal new information about the Universe that can’t be recorded with optical or even more exotic telescopes that measure other types of light, like radio waves, microwaves, x-rays, and gamma rays. Many different roles and talents are needed to develop new approaches—technicians to make and operate new machines, computer experts to store and retrieve data, and scientists to define goals, identify promising projects, and guide students. IceCube and ARA are discovery instruments that will lead to a greater understanding of the cosmos and will hopefully uncover new mysteries for scientists to solve.

Where Are They?

Photo by Michelle BrownThe IceCube building. Photo by Michelle Brown. The team works at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica. The IceCube site is about one kilometer from the South Pole station, which supplies the necessary logistics of food, power, and shelter. Despite the cold outside, life inside the station is relatively luxurious with comfortable beds, cooked meals, and showers twice a week. The South Pole is reached by plane from McMurdo Station on the coast of Antarctica, accessible from the end of October through mid-February, after which time temperatures become too low for planes to operate safely. About 40 people remain at the South Pole station the rest of the year, which is known as wintering over. IceCube has two people dedicated to overseeing the operation of the telescope during this period at the South Pole.


On December 29th we boarded a LC-130 at the South Pole that would take us back to McMurdo Station. I didn't realize how much I had become attached to this place and the people there until I made the final round of goodbyes in the galley during lunchtime just before I left. Nothing could have prepared me for how hard it would be to leave this inspiring continent. With a heavy heart I embraced each of my team members at the "Welcome to the South Pole" sign. It felt like just hours before I had stepped off the plane and taken my first shallow breaths at the South Pole. Now, almost four weeks...
Skua Shack
In one of the most remote places in the world, it can be hard to imagine spending the holidays without loved ones around. But when you're surrounded by some of the most hard working and giving people who also find themselves isolated at the holidays, you find yourself surrounded with a new family. This was my first white Christmas (ever!) and I got to start off the weekend with a sled ride down a mountain beside the station. I can't remember the last time I rode a sled and it was such a great way to bond with fellow Polies as we laughed and slid down the hill with child-like excitement. The...
Sonde instrument
Today I helped meteorologist, Katie Koster, launch a weather balloon. Katie is a molecular biologist by training, but now finds herself staying for the winter to launch weather balloons from the South Pole Station. Every day at 10:00 A.M. and 10:00 P.M. a balloon is launched from the South Pole Station and is synchronized with other weather stations across the continent to map out weather. The balloon lifts up a sensor that measures temperature, pressure, and humidity. The GPS unit attached to the balloon allows it to calculate the wind speed and direction. This information is useful to...
South Pole Gravity Sign
50 feet below the South Pole station begins a series of tunnels leading to Rod wells that house fresh drinking water. A 'Rod well' is created by hot water drilling into the ice until water is reached. As more hot water is added, the ice continues to melt, creating a bowl that contains freshly melted ice, or drinking water. This water is pumped back to the station through a series of pipes in the underground tunnel. As the Rod well gets too large and depletes the drinking water, it gets converted into a sewage dump and a new Rod well is drilled. The water and sewage pipes that run through the...
LC-130 Taking off in McMurdo
Anyone staying at the South Pole station arrives on a LC-130 Hercules with skids. This allows the planes to land on the ice runway with skis covering their wheels. The runway is about two miles in length and is maintained regularly by Fleet Ops who groom the runway, and the survey team who checks for crevasses. The LC-130 Hercules in McMurdo Station heading for the South Pole. The South Pole Fire Department assists with all Hercules flight landings. They muster on the runway in a track-wheeled van and prepare to support with any flight emergencies. During the summer months when planes are...

Expedition Resources

Project Information

Dates: 26 November 2017 to 3 January 2018
Location: South Pole, Antarctica
Project Funded Title: IceCube and the Askaryan Radio Array

Meet the Team

Lesley Anderson's picture
High Tech High Chula Vista
Chula Vista, CA
United States

Lesley Anderson is in her 4th year of teaching at High Tech High in California as an 11th grade biology and environmental science teacher. She studied biological sciences as an undergraduate at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo where she conducted research on behavioral and morphological studies of tropical freshwater fish species. She is currently pursuing her masters of science in chemistry from South Dakota State University. In 2011 Lesley was part of a research team that tagged and tracked breaching great white sharks off the coast of South Africa. In the summers of 2013-14 Lesley worked as a data analyst for NASA at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory helping to create an archival database for Arctic sea ice thickness measurements through computer programming. In the summer of 2015 Lesley worked for NOAA at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center in the Marine Mammal and Turtle Division optimizing protocols for RNA extraction from sea turtle blood. Her students are currently partnering with Rising Tide Conservation to turn her classroom into a working aquarium laboratory where students can collaborate with researchers in order to learn how to breed ornamental fish in captivity. Lesley hopes that her research opportunity in Antarctica will help her to co-design a new project with her students when she returns.

Jim Madsen's picture
University of Wisconsin River Falls
River Falls, WI
United States

Dr. Madsen is the chair of the Physics Department at UW-River Falls and Associate Director of the IceCube Neutrino Observatory where he directs the education and outreach program. His research interests include heliophysics and astrophysics, which he has studied at his various projects in Antarctica. In addition to research, Dr. Madsen is committed to reaching a broad audience beyond the research community. He is involved in education and outreach for the IceCube project including professional development courses for teachers and science and math instruction for the UWRF Upward Bound Program. He collaborates with a number of programs and institutions in addition to PolarTREC, including the Knowles Science Teaching Foundation, UW-River Falls Upward Bound and McNair Programs, and service groups (Rotary International, Boy and Girl Scouts, university alumni associations, etc.). You can read more about Dr. Madsen's work here and here.

"Working in Antarctica is a wonderful adventure, and it is great to provide opportunities for others to have this awesome experience."

Subscribe To Journals!


Latest Comments

Ah sorry, I meant to send an email but ended up commenting instead. I'm not sure if there is a way to delete my comment so I guess I will leave it like this.
Hi Lesley, My name is Kon Aoki, and I am a freshman majoring in physics and computer science at Colorado College. I have just applied for the IceCube Neutrino Astrophysics REU position at University...
Please explain why the temp. in the tunnel 50 feet below the South Pole station is a constant -60F. Why isn't it a constant 32F, like a snow cave up here in the north? Is it -60F two feet below the...
Thank you, Kirk! The pictures and videos don't even do it justice!
Thanks Armando! I appreciate your support along the way!