The emperor penguin chicks get bigger, the most amazing aurora australis this year, cameras get checked ready for the return of wildlife and a roast was the toast of Saturday!

The emperor penguins grow up

The emperor penguin chicks have finally become too big to balance on their parents’ feet and now spend the day in crèches while the adults feed. They are big balls of grey down, very active, very noisy and learning to do penguin things like slide on your tummy across the ice — they can’t walk as their legs are too short.

As a group we have been fortunate this year to get to a variety of penguin colonies including the Fold Islands, Taylor Glacier and Auster on a number of occasions. For our group though, these are the last photos of emperor chicks for the year. The sea ice is deteriorating rapidly around the station and this week the routes to Auster and Taylor Glacier were closed until next year. It was a privilege to see these animals in their natural habitat, unafraid of us and curious enough to come close and say hello.

They are amazing birds and I hope that the end of their breeding season passes safely so that they can return next year and repeat all over again.

Ready, set, shoot

There are a number of fixed cameras around Mawson station that take photos of the local wildlife populations, mostly snow petrels and Adélie penguins for researchers back in Hobart. Monitoring of these colonies provides insights into the health of fishery stocks as well as the local environment.

The Adélie penguins and the snow petrels are due to arrive back in their breeding grounds over the next couple of weeks, so Tony the communications tech has been out and about replacing memory cards and checking that the cameras are working. 

The clouds finally lifted to reveal…

The auroras this winter have been amazing and fairly frequent so when the alerts started to go out about a solar storm last week we were pretty excited.

Auroras occur in response to activity from the sun as the sun spills high energy particles into the solar winds. Sometimes there is a larger than normal eruption like a solar flare or coronal mass ejection and this causes a flood of excited particles into the solar winds where they hit the earths magnetic field. Then they interact with the gases in the atmosphere to create auroras, a bit like atmospheric fluros!

Oxygen creates the green colour, nitrogen reds and blues – amazing really. Anyway, because we know what causes auroras they can to a degree be predicted and as we sign up for just about every Facebook and aurora watcher website we get alerts when a major sun event occurs.

So for most of last week we observed fantastic pictures from Swoya station, Hobart and the northern hemisphere… while we observed 100% cloud cover. It was just a bit depressing, however on Saturday night the clouds finally cleared and revealed the most amazing aurora australis so far this year. There were curtains and ribbons of bright green light across the sky, moving fast and clearly. For the photographers at one stage the light was so intense that we were down to 8–10 second exposures with low ISO settings enabling quick thinking Shane to take a beautiful panorama shot.

It was a night like this that makes it easy to see why the ancient Norse communities viewed auroras as a fire bridge to the sky. 

Spit roast Saturday

We all rotate on the slushy roster and sometimes this includes actually playing at being cook for the day. Shane was up last Saturday and proposed a spit roast and table tennis in the green store.

The spit roast was amazing, thanks Shane and all the team who helped to set up and get the pig on the spit.