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Mike Penn's picture

Time Travel?

Click the Media tab to see a short YouTube video of today's visit to the Ceremonial and Geographic South Poles!

I was at the Geographic South Pole today! It is a simple pole in the snow with an interesting symbolic top, but it is an AWESOME spot on the Earth.
Geographic pole markerEvery year the Geographic South Pole is repositioned (the ice it sits on is drifting to the East a few feet every year) and a new marker is placed on the pole. The first thing I did was walk all of the way around the Geographic South Pole because when I did that, I had just "walked around the world" going through all 24 time zones! Geographic S PoleThe Geographic South Pole is a one of the most interesting places on Earth, and a place where you can time travel...if you know what to do! Then I did some time traveling! The Ceremonial Pole is lame but the Geographic Pole is AWESOME! The first thing I did was to walk around the Geographic South Pole, and by doing that I "walked around the world" and I walked through all 24 time zones! Then (this is the coolest part) I stepped from TODAY into YESTERDAY (that is where you are...just so you know). Then I stepped from yesterday BACK INTO TOMORROW! How mindbendingly cool is that?! Ok, I really just stepped a few feet to the west (my left) and then stepped a few feet back to the east (my right) over the 0˚/180˚/Prime Meridian/International Date line, but it isn't nearly as fun when I describe it like that! That may have been the coolest thing I have ever done!

The South Pole is an interesting and confusing place.

Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station is the southernmost residence on Earth with a population of approximately 150 people in the austral summer (now) and about 50 people in the winter.
South Pole StationThe South Pole Station, built in 2008, is just feet from the Geographic South Pole. The high elevation, dry climate, and clean air make the South Pole an ideal place for astrophysics, climatology, glaciology, seismology, geospace sciences and of course climatology and meterology (like the project I'm working on!). There is cutting edge science being done here. I’ve met some really interesting people!
Station MapThis map shows some of the areas around the South Pole Station where some serious science is happening!

Every Direction is North!

The Station is located at 90 degrees south latitude and sits at an elevation of approximately 2,836 meters (9,306 feet), most of which is ice. When you stand at the exact 'Geographic South Pole' (or sometimes called the Terrestrial South Pole), every direction is north. Every direction is 'up' from the bottom of the Earth and therefore, north! To compensate for that, a Grid navigation system is used where a four quadrant grid is overlaid onto the map of Antarctica with the origin set directly on top of the Geographic South Pole. Using that system, we can go “Grid West” or “Grid East”. For locations in an easterly longitude (Eastern Hemisphere), "grid direction" equals true direction minus the longitude of the place you want to go. For locations in a westerly longitude (Western Hemisphere), "grid direction" equals true direction plus the longitude of the place you want to go.

Grid SystemWhen at the South Pole, every direction is north and that (and a few other magnetic issues) makes conventional navigation techniques nearly impossible. To compensate for those problems the "Grid System" is employed.

Ceremonial Pole

The Ceremonial South Pole is an area set aside for getting your picture taken at the South Pole Station! It is located about 100 yards from the Geographic South Pole, and is just a metallic sphere on a short bamboo pole, surrounded by the flags of the original Antarctic Treaty signatory states. Naturally, I got my picture taken there!
Penn Ceremonial PoleOver my shoulder is the Ceremonial South Pole, a great place to get your picture taken, but there is nothing special about the actual place. The really special place is the Geographic South Pole!

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Jo Ann Walsh's picture

Jo Ann Walsh said:

Is there “day” and “night” at the south pole?
Mike Penn's picture

Mike Penn replied:

Jo Ann! There is one "Day" and one "Night" here at the South Pole. The "Day" lasts six months and the night lasts six months. The sunset is March 23, 2019 at 1:33 PM ! There will be a few weeks of twilight and then months of complete darkness. Thanks for reading my Journals and taking the time to ask a question!
Ella's picture

Ella said:

Did someone put a "pole" on the south pole or not?
Mike Penn's picture

Mike Penn replied:

Ella, Yep, there actually is a pole stuck in the ground at the Geographic South Pole! It is repositioned every year based on how far the ice sheet has drifted that year. It has drifted a little more than 100 yards in the past 10 years, so it moves at roughly 30 feet per year. I think there is a picture of the pole (with the fancy cap) in the journal about the Geographic South Pole.
cole's picture

cole said:

were all those small flags for crevasses
Mike Penn's picture

Mike Penn replied:

Cole, If you are asking about the flags of countries that are over my shoulder in the picture in this Journal, no. Those flags are to represent the countries that originally signed the Antarctic Treaty back in 1959.
Elizabeth's picture

Elizabeth said:

Did the pole in the first picture move at all over all the years it has been there?
Mike Penn's picture

Mike Penn replied:

Elizabeth, Yes, it has moved about 100 yards over the past 10 years. So, it (the ice sheet it is on) moves about 30 feet per year. Thanks for reading my journals and taking the time to ask a question!
Alaina's picture

Alaina said:

Does it feel weird when you walk into a different time zone? Can you tell that you are in "tomorrow"?
Mike Penn's picture

Mike Penn replied:

Alaina, Nope, you can't feel it at all! Other than the calendar/clock showing that it is 8:00 AM, Tuesday, the 18th of December here, there is no difference. I do have to keep doing the math in my head to figure out what time it is for you back in the United States. We are 18 hours ahead of you...so it is yesterday Monday, December 17th and it is 2:00 PM for you...18 hours behind me here at the South Pole! Confusing...right?
Mariah's picture

Mariah said:

Does it rain or precipitate there besides snow and do you get thunder storms?
Mike Penn's picture

Mike Penn replied:

Mariah, It hasn't "Rained" here in millions of years. ALL of the precipitation is in a frozen form...and there is very very little of that. The South Pole gets less than two inches of (liquid equivalent) precipitation. As a comparison, Pittsburgh averages about 42 inches per year! I'll have to ask about the thunderstorm (or Thunder Snow) but I doubt it. The weather here doesn't work as it does in more temperate climates. The warm fronts (high pressure) and cold fronts (Low pressure) aren't as drastically different here.
Alex 's picture

Alex said:

Hello im a students from dansville middle school, How do they calculate where the pole is?
Mike Penn's picture

Mike Penn replied:

Alex, That is a great question that requires a little math. I'll simplify it so that I don't have to write pages explaining all of the calculations. We are lucky since we are very close to the Winter Solstice and on that day (12/22) the angle of the sun will match the tilt of the earth (23.5˚) . SO all we have to do is confirm that with some geometry (for our purposes). Imagine that the sun is shining on the pole stuck on the ground at the geographic south pole. It would cast a shadow. If we measure the height of the pole and the length of the shadow we would have two sides of a triangle. The missing side is the distance from the end of the shadow to the top of the pole. We know from the Pythagorean theorem that A^2 +B^2 = C^2 ( if we make the two known sides A and B) and that should give us the length of the missing side. Here is where it gets a little more tricky. If the pole is perpendicular to the ground that would be a 90˚ angle. If the earth is tilted at 23.5˚ degrees to the sun (it is!) then if all triangles have 180˚ of angles, 90+23.5= 66.6˚ so if all of that agrees, we know that we are at the exact Geographic South Pole. Get it? I'll try to do the actual Trigonometry calculations and get post it as a part of a journal in a day or two. Fun stuff!
Christopher O'Dell's picture

Christopher O'Dell said:

how far does the station move every year?
Mike Penn's picture

Mike Penn replied:

Christopher, That is a great question! It moves about 33 feet per year to the Grid East.
Aubrielle Costic 's picture

Aubrielle Costic said:

Did you see any Weddell seal pups here or at Mc. murdo station?
Mike Penn's picture

Mike Penn replied:

Aubrielle, We DID see some pups, but they were born several months ago and they were nearly as big as the adults. I couldn't really tell them apart but other people who had been to the Antarctic before said that they could tell the difference. They were old enough that they weren't nursing from their mothers any more.