Antarctica, the icy continent in the southern hemisphere, encircles the South Pole. Its name, derived from Greek, means "opposite to the Arctic," the region around the North Pole. It's the fifth-largest continent, larger than Europe and Australia combined. Yet, despite its size, Antarctica doesn't have any permanent human residents.

Covered mostly by a thick layer of ice, Antarctica holds an incredible amount of the Earth's ice—about 90%—and around 70% of its fresh water. The ice can reach a mind-boggling depth of 15,670 feet in some places. Along its edges, glaciers constantly break off into the sea, forming icebergs.

Antarctica is split into two main parts: East Antarctica and West Antarctica. West Antarctica includes the Antarctic Peninsula, which stretches about 800 miles towards South America. The Transantarctic Mountains separate these regions, with some peaks, called nunataks, poking through the ice.

Even though most of Antarctica is icy, about 2% of it is ice-free. These areas, known as oases, are mostly found near the coast. Notable examples include the dry valleys in southern Victoria Land and the Bunger Oasis in Wilkes Land.

Antarctica has unique seasons because it doesn't have regular day and night cycles. Instead, it experiences long periods of daylight and darkness. During summer, which lasts about six months, the sun doesn't set at all at the South Pole. But during winter, which is also about six months long, it's dark most of the time.

Antarctica is famous for being the coldest place on Earth. In the interior, temperatures can drop to an average of -70°F. However, along the coast, especially on the Antarctic Peninsula, it can sometimes warm up to 59°F.

People have been exploring Antarctica since the late 19th century. The first landing was in 1895 at Cape Adare. The first winter spent on the continent was from March 1898 to March 1899, when a ship got stuck in ice. Famous explorers like Robert F. Scott, Ernest Henry Shackleton, and Roald Amundsen led expeditions there. Amundsen was the first person to reach the South Pole in 1911.

In the 1950s, scientists started doing a lot of research in Antarctica, especially during something called the International Geophysical Year. That's when countries decided to work together to study the continent peacefully. They made a treaty in 1959 to keep Antarctica for science. Over the years, more and more countries agreed, and by 2012, 50 nations had signed the treaty, making Antarctica a collaborative hub for scientific exploration.

Source: Antarctica
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