Sunday, April 8, 2012


     My job on the ship is multibeam processing.  The ship's hull mounted echo sounder sends an unrelenting barrage of sonar beams as we travel through the sea, constantly mapping Neptune's hoary depths. The sonar beams are sent in a fan shape which lets us map, from our small boat, sections of the sea floor that can be from 15 to 25  kilometers in width. However, things such as rough seas, or perhaps occasional interference from other machines, causes bad pings to show up, which have to be edited out by hand. Actually, this is where most of the time is spent. Oh the capricious dance of ping editing. The life of a ping editor is a lonely one, filled with hardship and danger. But, as they say, someone's got to stand the heat and stay in the kitchen. For a brief moment, I was able to convince Yan Ming to help me with this task. Together, we were a two-headed hydra coursing our way through new realms of science and discovery, hoofing it with great gusto and leaving our venom deep in the hindquarters of bad pings, wherever they may be. But sadly it is true that nothing gold can stay. Yan Ming quickly left to find more interesting things to do. Once again, I was a wolf bereft of a pack. But I endeavored to persevere! And as the nocturne hour gave way to day I finished editing all the pings and raised my fist in triumph and shook it at the heathen Sun.
     All rambling aside,  multibeam processing is something that I am quite proud to do. After a day's worth of data has been cleaned up, I use it to  make a map.  Existing maps of the area estimate the sea floor topography based on satellite read gravity measurements and have a resolution of only around 2 kilometers or so. The new maps that use multibeam data have a gridding resolution of 50 meters. Canyons and underwater mountains that once lay hidden now reveal themselves. Many of them have never been seen before. I get the first look at the map and can see the big picture of new discoveries. That's a pretty neat thing.

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