February 6, 2012 The History of the South Pole, Part 1
Today, we know what our world looks like (on the surface, at least) but it wasn’t always so.
In the beginning
Long ago, people thought that the northern most part of the world was a ring of ice surrounding a warm sea. They also believed that in the south, there had to be a large land mass to balance out all of the continents that were in the northern hemisphere. Eventually, Australia was discovered but there was still an unexplored part of the world... People knew there had to be something else down there. In fact, they were so sure that their maps actually contained a mystery continent.
It was not until 1820 that someone actually saw Antarctica.
Crossing the Antarctic Circle
People spent many years trying to go south but there were a lot of barriers. For a long time, people relied on wooden sailing ships. These were difficult to control in certain latitudes though – the Roaring Forties (40 to 49 degrees South), the Furious Fifties, and Screaming Sixties were known for their terrible winds. In fact, no one made it beyond the 66th parallel (also known as the Antarctic Circle) until James Cook crossed it in 1773. (He’s considered to be one of the first –and certainly one of the most important – Antarctic explorers. I’ll be highlighting him in a future journal entry.) A year later, in 1774, he managed to get to 71 degrees South. For half a century, this was the Farthest South.
(Farthest South was the term that people used when talking about how far south people had gone. It could mean the farthest south that anyone in the world had ever been or it could be a particular person’s record. For example, Roald Amundsen’s Farthest South was the South Pole while James Cook’s Farthest South was 71 degrees South.)
Tune in tomorrow to find out who set the next Farthest South record.