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Alone in Antarctica: Experts Abandon Months of Light for Science

Mar 03, 2015 01:44 PM EST
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(Photo : BAS–Sam Burrell)

March is upon us, and that means that scientists at the French-Italian Concordia research station in Antarctica are in the midst of prepping for a harsh winter - one that lasts half a year, with little to no contact with the rest of the world. What's worse, four of those six months will be spent without sunlight. Ah, the things some people will do for science.

This year, the European Space Agency (ESA) has opted to send one of their own, medical doctor Beth Healey, out to join the research team for their six-month stay, ensuring that everyone stays healthy. She will also collect data that could prove valuable to space agencies that plan to send people up to orbital stations like the International Space Station (ISS) or even planets for long-duration missions, such as NASA's exciting Mars One project.

The Concordia station is even like living in space in that it has conditions of reduced air pressure, given that it is a stunning two miles (3,200 meters) above sea level.

But what are people even doing there in the first place? The scientists will be searching for and/or observing life that can live in the extreme conditions of the White Continent, where microbial life is often primitive or radically adapted.

Additionally, the ESA's experiments, with the help of Healey, will involve the Concordia crew, particularly at the Halley VI station through the British Antarctic Survey.

"Over the next six months, volunteers at Halley and Concordia will record themselves in a video diary and have their social interactions monitored. This is working towards objective computer software that will give clues to an astronaut's state of mind," the ESA reported in a recent release. (Scroll to read on...)

(Photo : ESA/IPEV/PNRA–B. Healy) ESA doc Beth Healey poses for the camera outside the Concordia station as she enjoys some last days of sunlight.

That software, the agency explained, will provide an important second opinion, where "I'm feeling fine" may simply not be enough to ensure the safety of an astronaut and the success of a mission.

The agency will also be testing four methods of artificial lighting during the station's four lightless months, when the Sun will simply never cross the horizon.

"We are committed to supporting excellent science in Antarctica in all disciplines," added the British Antarctic Survey's director of science, David Vaughan. "We are hugely excited to be hosting these new experiments that may help prepare for, perhaps, the biggest adventure in history, a manned flight to Mars."

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

- follow Brian on Twitter @BS_ButNoBS.

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