Starlink Helps Team Study 2.7 Million Year-Old Ice While Fighting 15 M/s Wind!

Ramish Zafar
A Starlink user dish is shown in Antartica.
A Starlink user dish stands proud in Antarctica. Image: icy_pete/Twitter

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SpaceX's Starlink satellite internet service is providing researchers in Antarctica with internet connectivity as part of their efforts to study the world's oldest ice reserves. Researchers part of the Center for Oldest Ice Exploration (COLDEX) are busy toiling away in Allan Hills, Antarctica, where they are investigating ice that is millions of years old. Aiding them is Starlink, which has dramatically expanded its global connectivity in just a couple of years as SpaceX stretches its launch cadence to the maximum with the Falcon 9 rocket.

Starlink Is Now Providing Internet Coverage At Both Poles Of The Earth

Antarctica is the remotest region in the world and the coldest and driest continent out of all present. It is also home to most of the Earth's water reserves, and researchers from COLDEX are investigating the ice present in the region.  Antarctica holds 90% of the world's ice, and according to researchers, ice as old as 2.7 million years has been found there.

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They are working in the Allan Hills region of Antarctica, which is currently seeing temperatures below -19 degrees Celsius. These are well above the Starlink dish's lowest operating temperature limit of -30 degrees Celsius. However, while this is a mercury temperature reading, those in the region feel much colder as high wind speeds of up to 10 meters per second make the cold much stronger.

A view of the Starlink dish surrounded by the speedy Antarctica winds was shared by the COLDEX Twitter page, and it shows the dish holding its ground as the icy winds bombard it from every direction. From the looks of it, the dish in question appears to be the larger and higher performance variant that SpaceX reserves for business customers with a higher monthly subscription fee.

The team made their way to the McMurdo research station on Ross Island in late November. McMurdo is located right at the edge of the continent. They then headed out to establish camp at Allan Hills at the start of this month, and the first half of the team reached Allan Hills successfully, while the second was delayed due to weather constraints.

Camp at Allan Hills was established late last week, and one of the first videos from the breathtaking site saw the Starlink user dish standing proudly at one of the remotest regions on Earth.

However, this would not prove to be the toughest test the dish would have to face, with footage from earlier today showing that despite wind speeds of up to 30 knots (~15 meters per second), it continued to work as expected.

A view of the user dish on the first day of camp was shared by Dr. Peter Neff, a glaciologist and an assistant professor working at the University of Minnesota.

Starlink is officially available on both of the world's poles with today's footage. Antarctica lies on the Southern pole, and an update to SpaceX's website early last month showed that its service could provide coverage even in the remote region of the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard. Svalbard is known for having nights that last for months since its position at the uppermost (Northern) region of the Earth either places it continuously in the Sun's reach or completely outside it. An email SpaceX sent out to users last month confirmed coverage in Antarctica through laser satellites that remove the need to set up costly ground stations for completing the link to internet servers.

Investigating polar ice reveals clues about the Earth's atmosphere, which is also crucial for understating the impacts of climate change. Within this ice are perfectly preserved pockets of ancient air, which enable researchers to determine what the atmosphere was like millions of years ago. This includes finding out the different kinds and amounts of greenhouse gases that were present in the atmosphere back then to determine how the levels have changed over time.

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