Virtual Tour - Life at the South Pole: Sun!


When you're at the Pole, the Sun doesn't rise and set every day. It rises at one equinox and sets at the other, giving 6 months of day and 6 months of night. When living under these conditions, you can well imagine that sunlight (or the lack thereof) is a pretty big deal!

First, a bit of background

Here we've just collected a few pictures pertaining to sunlight. For more information about the path of the Sun (and the Earth's revolution, rotation, and tilt), there are several resources on line, and we've collected some of these sun resources onto a separate page.

Sun Pictures

When the Sun is up at the Pole, it moves around the horizon. Here is a time-series of images that demonstrates this. The Sun is moving behind the GASP telescope. Photos courtesy Robert Schwarz.

Here is an even better time series, because it's all in one shot. Each exposure is about 30 minutes apart. The picture was taken through the windows of Skylab, so some of the scratches in the window glint in the sunlight. Photos courtesy Robert Schwarz.

NEW! The AASTO has a live webcam that posts current images of the South Pole. They have some very cool movies (high res and low res versions) that combine images taken every 4 minutes over 33 hours, and you can see by watching the shadows that the Sun just goes around and around the sky.

At night, especially with the Moon, the landscape looks rather otherworldly. The winterover for Python carries coolant up to it in this view. You can see the Moon in the sky.

Python in silhouette against the setting Sun.

Here, the setting sun is low enough that it comes into the dome. Photo courtesy Robert Schwarz.

Sundogs (the bright spot to the left of the Sun here) form as the Sun gets low. (They are a result of ice crystals suspended in the atmosphere, and can be seen at more temperate latitudes as well.) Photo courtesy Robert Schwarz.

Shadows get very long as the Sun sets... Robert Schwarz (the photographer here) says that his shadow is about 15 m long! Photo courtesy Robert Schwarz.

In 1997, the Sun technically set at the equinox on March 21 at 01:56 local time. Robert Schwarz, a winterover at the time, recorded it. Photo courtesy Robert Schwarz.

Because the atmosphere bends the sunlight, the Sun still peeked above the horizon for 4 more days. Photo courtesy Robert Schwarz.

OK, it's really going now! Photo courtesy Robert Schwarz.

The dome catches a few last rays of sunlight. Photo courtesy Robert Schwarz.

After sunset the dome is illuminated by big foodlights. This is Upper Berthing, and you can see the escape hatches for each room. (see page on Robert's room.) Photo courtesy Robert Schwarz.

Six months later, the Sun starts to return! Sunrise in Antarctica takes about three weeks. Robert Schwarz notes, "On the 5th of August during one of my observations of the comet Hale-Bopp I could definitely see the first glare of the Sun. From now on it was becoming more obvious from day to day. The night is on the retreat and so the beautiful star sky and the wonderful aurorae. [This picture is] from the end of August. You can see old Clean Air, the weather tower and GASP in the background. In the upper left Sirius is visible." Photo courtesy Robert Schwarz.

Just in time for their sunrise party on Sept 20, they got their first actual glimpse of the Sun in six months. "Just a small piece, but it was there!" Photo courtesy Robert Schwarz.


For more pictures about the Sun, see Robert Schwarz's page on Sunset, followed six months later by his page on Sunrise. Those links take you out of the CARA Virtual Tour. Use your browser's "Back" button to return here.


Go back to the Life at the South Pole Page.