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Group of UW researchers spend all year in Antarctica

ANTARCTICA (CBS 58) --  Antarctica is the coldest place on Earth where the sun doesn’t shine for six months at a time, but it’s staffed by a group of scientists based out of Wisconsin all year long. Meteorologist Justin Thompson-Gee had the opportunity to talk with scientists of a research project called IceCube in Antarctica.

Raffaela Busse and Johannes Werthebach will be spending all winter at the South Pole in Antarctica and are already loving every minute, “Every time I go out there I think wow this is a beautiful place,” said Johannes.

The two scientists arrived at the South Pole on November 1 and are part of a team of researchers from UW-Madison working at IceCube all year long. Associate Director of the program Albrecht Karle says the goal of IceCube is to, "Look for extremely energetic neutrinos which appear in energetic processes in the Universe."

More simply, the group is studying particles entering the Antarctic ice from space and trying to figure out exactly where they came from to learn clues about the history of the Universe.

It took seven years to complete construction of IceCube which used hot water drills to melt holes in the ice deep enough for large cables with hi-tech cameras the size of basketballs attached to them. In total there are 86 cables that make up IceCube and each cable has 60 cameras so there are 5,000 sensors deployed in the ice about two miles deep.

Working in the coldest place on earth can be challenging, "It’s cold. Even on a sunny warm day it’s minus 30°," said Albrecht.

Delia Tosi who has gone to Antarctica five times says, "All your fingers cracks and never heal…your hands are bleeding all of the time and your nose is bleeding all of the time.”

The researchers are well equipped for the cold and wind. Each team member is given a warm parka, well insulated mittens, goggles and even snow boots that you can vacuum the air out of.

Since it is now winter in Antarctica the sun doesn't come back up until November, but the dozens that have to spend the winter confined to the South Pole do the best they can to make it feel like home, "Mondays are basketball and then we have volleyball, badminton, hockey, there’s a climbing gym," said Johannes.

But the real sight is outside. “The auroras. That’s one of the main reasons I’m here," said Raffaela.

The IceCube website also mentions a 300 club. The members who have joined run from a 200° sauna to an outside temperature of -100° experiencing a 300° temperature drop in a matter of minutes.

For those curious, there are actually no penguins at the South Pole and no animal life at all since it’s so isolated. When it comes to hygiene team members are only permitted 2-two minute showers per week.

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