Greetings from the South Pole!

How do you get to the South Pole?

I travel with the United States Antarctic Program, which requires airplane flights on four days.

The flight from New Zealand to McMurdo Station is on an Air Force plane with wheels and jet engines. This time of year, we don't "land" on land but instead on a runway made of frozen sea ice. That's New Zealand on the left and McMurdo on the right.

In January, the sea ice cracks and melts, the runway is no longer usable, and icebreaker ships cut channels through the ice so that cargo ships can deliver to McMurdo.

The flight from McMurdo to South Pole is on an Air Guard plane with propellers and both wheels and skis. The wheels are used on the hard ice runway at McMurdo, and the skis are used on the soft snow runway at South Pole.

Is there really land in Antarctica, or just ice and snow?

There really is land in Antarctica -- lots of it, enough that it is a continent of its own. In most places, the land is covered with snow, but in several places, you can see rocks and dirt.

There is a lot of exposed land in the hills around McMurdo station. There is even an active, steaming volcano 30 miles away called Mount Erebus.

On the flight from McMurdo to South Pole, you can see many mountains and glaciers about halfway between the two stations.

At South Pole, though, the snow is almost two miles thick, and the horizon is flat and snow covered as far as the eye can see. Sometimes, it looks like an ocean.

Is the Sun really up 24 hours per day at the South Pole?

Yes, from the beginning of spring (mid September) to the end of summer (mid March), the Sun is above the horizon all of the time. In fall and winter, the Sun is below the horizon all of the time. Sunrise and sunset can take up to a week from start to finish!

Good morning!. It's 6:00 AM, and here is where the Sun is.

It's now 12:00 noon, and here is where the Sun is. The Sun never gets very high in the sky at South Pole.

It's now 6:00 PM, and here is where the Sun is.

It's now 12:00 midnight, and the Sun is just as high in the sky!

Due to the Earth's rotation around its axis -- which goes right through South Pole -- the Sun appears to spin around us during a 24 hour period without getting higher or lower.

I have no plans to be at the South Pole during the winter, but it is a very pretty place then. The people that stay here can see stars, the Moon for half of the time, and often the Aurora Australis (Southern Lights).

Denis Barkats, who stayed at the South Pole for the winter to run the BICEP telescope, took this picture of the Moon and Aurora Australis.

Who were the first people to make it to South Pole?

Two groups were in a race to be the first to reach South Pole: a team led by Roald Amundsen of Norway, and a team led by Robert Scott of Britain. The Amundsen party arrived first, on December 14, 1911. The Scott party arrived a month later, on January 17, 1912, to find that Amundsen had already been there. The Amundsen group survived the trip home, but Scott and his other four team members did not.

The Roald Amundsen team from Norway at the South Pole.

The Robert Scott team from Britain at the South Pole.

The South Pole station is named after both Amundsen and Scott.

After Amundsen and Scott, no one visited South Pole until an American plane flew there on October 31, 1956 -- just a little over 50 years ago. The South Pole has been occupied by people most of the time since then.

The American plane "Que Sera Sera" which flew to South Pole in 1956, piloted by Gus Shinn.

How many people are at the South Pole now, and why are they there?

In the late spring and summer (from November through February), there are usually about 250 people here. There are about 50 people who spend the winter here. Between mid-February and mid-October, there are no flights to or from South Pole since it is too cold, so the people staying for the winter have to be in good health.

The main reason people are here is to do science experiments. Some people (like me) are setting up telescopes that will do astronomy in the winter. Others are studying earthquakes around the world or climate change (the change in temperature and pollution in the atmosphere).

It takes many people to keep the station running, including people who: