The long night ends in Antarctica as Sun rises after four months of complete darkness
The long night in Antarctica ended with the Sun rising on the horizon as researchers resumed their work conducting several scientific studies in the region. The frozen landscape has research stations from different countries, which will now prepare for summer and the return of scientists that arrive for the warmer months starting in November.
The long night, which extends between four to five months characterised by 24 hours of darkness, confining researchers on a continent known for one of the most extreme environments on the planet. There is no way in or out of the stations during the winter-over period. Scientists from the European Space Agency (ESA) have been living in the most isolated part of the region as they welcomed the arrival of the Sun.
Nick Smith of the ESA has been overseeing experiments in human physiology and biology, atmospheric physics, meteorology, and astronomy, among other disciplines on the fifth-largest continent. Along with the rest of the crew, he is also maintaining the base one of only three to run year-round in the Antarctic.
As the Sun rises again in the region, the bases will be cleaned and machinery serviced, tents are erected and heated, and the runway will be cleared of snow for new crew to arrive.
The long dark period in the Antarctic is considered a gold mine for research as humans prepare for the long duration flights into space with plans underway for manned missions to Moon and Mars. "Four months of complete darkness is quite the challenge and researchers are very interested in studying from a physiological and psychological point of view," ESA said in a statement.
While studies on how the body behaves during the long period of darkness are underway, research is also conducted on social dynamics during the period of darkness.
"Stress brought on by lack of sunlight, changing sleep patterns, fatigue and moodiness can affect the group. The crew are especially encouraged to take on group activities and get creative to combat the isolation of the winter. And not just with their own station crew."
Why is the Antarctic dark for six months?
While the world experiences four major seasons, Antarctica has just two, summers and winters as it remains covered in thick ice. The region has six months of daylight in its summer and six months of darkness in its winter.
Seasons on Earth are caused by the tilt of the planet's axis in relation to the sun and as the Earth orbits the sun, different parts of the planet are exposed to direct sunlight. According to Nasa, During summer, Antarctica is on the side of Earth tilted toward the sun and is in constant sunlight. In the winter, Antarctica is on the side of Earth tilted away from the sun, causing the continent to be dark.
The average temperature in Antarctica in the winter is minus 34.4 degrees Celsius and the lowest temperature ever recorded in the freezing continent was minus 89.4 degrees Celsius.