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Austin Peay State University physics graduate Deborah Gulledge to spend 10 months at South Pole

 

Austin Peay State University - APSUClarksville, TN – An Austin Peay State University (APSU) graduate is heading to the South Pole in January to perform seismology observations of the Solar System’s largest planet. She’ll be there – during winter – for 10 months.

Austin Peay State University graduate Deborah Gulledge tests the insulation on the telescope in a deep freezer in Hawaii. (APSU)

Austin Peay State University graduate Deborah Gulledge tests the insulation on the telescope in a deep freezer in Hawaii. (APSU)

In doing so, physics graduate Deborah Gulledge – now a graduate student at Georgia State University – will be one of only about 1,600 people ever to spend a winter at the pole. And she might be on the first team in history to prove whether Jupiter has a solid core.

“The news is easily the most exciting news I’ve ever received,” Gulledge said. “I’ve been hoping to go to the Pole for years and have been working toward it for months. I feel exhilarated and nervous and unbelievably happy — like I’m on top of the world because I’m about to go to the bottom of it.”

Gulledge is in Hawaii preparing for the South Pole mission helping build a telescope to observe Jupiter and its seismology. The team hopes the telescope can measure the sound waves traveling through the planet and use the measurements to map Jupiter’s internal structure, she said.

“The big question we really want to answer is ‘does Jupiter have a solid core?’” Gulledge said. “And the only place we can get sensitive enough measurements to answer this is at the South Pole.”

‘Wintering Over’ At The South Pole

Austin Peay State University graduate Deborah Gulledge stands in of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s sign, where she was an intern earlier this year, working on real-time atmospheric correction for ground-based telescopes. (APSU)

Austin Peay State University graduate Deborah Gulledge stands in of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s sign, where she was an intern earlier this year, working on real-time atmospheric correction for ground-based telescopes. (APSU)

Gulledge and the team start their journey to the South Pole in the first week of January. They’ll fly to Christchurch, New Zealand, then to McMurdo Station on the coast of Antarctica. A final flight will carry them to the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station at the South Pole.

The temperature recorded at 12:48am September 26th at Amundsen-Scott was minus-78 degrees Fahrenheit (the wind made it feel much colder, though – minus-117 degrees Fahrenheit), according to the National Science Foundation website.

“It’ll be summer when I get there, constant sunlight until mid-March,” Gulledge said. “Then it’s on to the exciting part: winter and constant darkness for half a year until the long winter ends in September.”

She’s scheduled to be at the South Pole station until mid-November. She’ll be with only about 40 people “wintering over.”

When she arrives, Gulledge will help assemble the telescope on the ice, troubleshooting problems and getting the telescope running.

“The rest of the team will head home when summer ends, leaving Cody Shaw (a Ph.D. student from the University of Hawaii) and myself at the end of the world for the winter,” Gulledge said.

Shaw has “done an incredible amount of work designing and building” the telescope, she added

Opportunities For Breakthroughs

Austin Peay State University graduate Gulledge stands in front of the Blanco 4m telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile during her time as an undergraduate with the Dark Energy Survey. (APSU)

Austin Peay State University graduate Gulledge stands in front of the Blanco 4m telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile during her time as an undergraduate with the Dark Energy Survey. (APSU)

“The main work will be running the telescope and working with the data we collect,” Gulledge said. “But all the winter-overs also help keep the station running, so there are lots of other things I might work on – helping in the hydroponics garden, cooking, cleaning, firefighting, whatever needs to be done.”

She’ll also use the time to work on her dissertation, the seismology of gas giants.

“Getting a chance to collect and work with this amazing data will help me write a strong dissertation and make a big contribution to the scientific community,” Gulledge said. “There are opportunities to make some really big breakthroughs here, and I’m excited to be part of the forefront of a new field.”

She has even loftier goals.

“I love observing the stars, but I want to make it to them too,” Gulledge said. “After I graduate, I plan to apply to the astronaut corps. I believe the experience of living and working in the most unforgiving, most isolated place on our planet is invaluable training for one day working in the most extreme environment known to humanity – space.”

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