At Casey this week: NASA robots and Adelies

NASA Space Bots

One NASA project out the door with another to arrive, this time from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory with us to test their robot named BRUIE (Buoyant Rover Under-Ice Exploration). This technology is being developed to find aliens, hopefully on Europa, one of Jupiter’s many moons. I won’t go into the technical aspects of either the robot or the science, as I run the risk of Kevin, Andy, Dan or Dan having to correct me (these guys are smart, really smart).

The team quickly got to work putting things together to deploy into the field. At times BRUIE was completely disassembled and didn’t look all that waterproof, but we had faith. We identified a number of secret locations to deploy and begin testing, after hours of cutting the perfect hole in the ice. BRUIE spent many hours under the ice testing, adjusting, testing, modifying and testing some more, at times visited by penguins and even sleeping overnight under the ice in O'Brien’s Bay.

This was a hugely successful expedition for the team which also had a positive influence on the station as a whole. They were a great asset to the community and really made us feel a part of their team in the larger sense of the project (i.e. to find aliens on Europa). Along with BRUIE, the team also had with them what Ali (Station Leader) aptly named “Minder Bot,” a small Remotely Operated Vehicle to keep an eye on what was happening under the surface. This was a valuable tool for the project but also fun for us to have a play with.

As the team were blessed with some incredible weather, their expectations of what they could achieve was exceeded, so we did what comes naturally, we put them to work in the kitchen. 

Nick Watt, Casey Operations Coordinator 

The little Adélie penguins are probably the penguins that expeditioners coming to Australian Antarctic Research Stations are most likely to see within station limits. I also think they are the funniest penguins to stop and observe for long periods of time.

Some interesting facts about the Adélie penguin:

  • The Adélie penguin lives along the entire Antarctic coast.
  • They are among the most southerly distributed of all seabirds.
  • During the warmer months, Adélie penguins are found primarily in breeding colonies in Antarctica.
  • During the winter months, they migrate northward to forage in the pack ice.
  • Adélies are named after the wife of the French Antarctic explorer Dumont D'Urville.
  • They live between 10 to 20 years in the wild and up to 30 years in captivity.
  • Adélies are mid-sized penguins, 46 to 71cm in height and 3.6 to 6kg in weight.
  • Adélies are excellent swimmers. Some have been recorded swimming as far as 300km (150km each way) to forage for their chicks.
  • These penguins communicate by voice and by body gestures to court a mate, recognize their mate after an absence, fend off intruders on their territory, and to find their chick in the crowd.
  • The longest trek recorded for an Adélie penguin is 17,600km.
  • Adélie penguins arrive at their breeding grounds in October/November. The males build a nest of stones. By mid November there are one to two eggs in the nest. They incubate for ~36 days. At the end of the summer the surviving chicks fledge and go to sea. 
  • They do not breed until they are between 3 and 5 years old.
  • Predators of Adélie penguins are leopard seals and orcas (killer whales).
  • The penguins in the film Madagascar are modeled on Adélie penguins, and the main character in the film Happy Feet is an Emperor penguin who befriends a group of Adélie penguins.

I hope you all enjoy my photos of these interesting little penguins.

Peter Lecompte, Casey Electrician