Last Flight: South Pole Station settles in for another winter season

The last LC-130 aircraft at South Pole Station for the 2011-12 field season as it taxis on an ice runway. Photo Credit: Sven Lidstrom

South Pole Station winter-overs, above, wave farewell to the last LC-130 aircraft (on the runway, at right) of the 2011-12 field season, as it heads north back to McMurdo Station on Feb. 15, 2012. Fifty people will spend the next eight months or so at the world's southernmost research station, isolated from the rest of the world except for Internet and voice communications. Many are support staff, from cooks to electricians to cargo handlers.

Others are scientists who maintain and run the high-tech experiments under way at the bottom of the world, including telescopes probing for clues about the nature of the young universe and its evolution, and an under-ice observatory called IceCube searching for subatomic particles called neutrinos that can shed light on big cosmic events like supernovas.

The U.S. Antarctic Program , managed by the National Science Foundation , has maintained a research facility at the South Pole since 1957. Nearly 1,400 people have wintered over during that time, when night envelops that part of the world for six months and temperatures can plunge below 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

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