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50 amazing facts about Antarctica

There are buried mountains

(Image credit: Michael Studinger)

Antarctica's Gamburtsev Mountains are a range of steep peaks that rise to 9,000 feet (3,000 meters) and stretch 750 miles (1,200 kilometers) across the interior of the continent — and are completely buried under up to 15,750 feet (4,800 m) ice.

A lake is hidden under ice

An artist's cross-section of Lake Vostok

(Image credit: Nicolle Rager-Fuller / NSF)

Also hiding under the Antarctic ice is an entire lake: Lake Vostok is a pristine freshwater lake buried beneath 2.5 miles (3.7 kilometers) of solid ice. It is about the size of Lake Ontario, and is the largest of the more than 200 liquid lakes strewn around the continent under the ice.

A rift could rival the Grand Canyon

Antarctica topography

(Image credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center)

A rift that could rival the Grand Canyon was discovered beneath the Antarctic ice during an expedition conducted during 2009-2010. It is roughly 6 miles (10 kilometers) across and at least 62 miles (100 km) long, possibly far longer if it extends into the sea. It extends nearly a mile down (1.5 km) at its deepest.

There's a great divide

(Image credit: NOAA)

The Transantarctic Mountains divide the continent into East and West sections. At 2,175 miles (3,500 kilometers) long, the Transantarctic range is one of the longest mountain ranges on Earth.

Vinson Massif is Antarctica's highest point

NASA IceBridge, Antarctica

(Image credit: NASA/Michael Studinger)

The highest point on Antarctica is the Vinson Massif at 16,362 feet (4,987 meters).

It has an active volcano

antarctica, mount erebus

(Image credit: Peter Rejcek, National Science Foundation.)

Antarctica is home to Mount Erebus, the southernmost active volcano on the planet and home to Earth's only long-lived lava lakes.

It was discovered by accident


(Image credit: NASA.)

The existence of Antarctica was completely unknown until the continent was first spotted in 1820. (It wasn't until 20 years later that it was confirmed to be a continent and not just a group of islands.)

Roald Amundsen was first to the South Pole

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(Image credit: Michael Studinger/NASA. )

Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen was the first human to reach the South Pole. He beat out English explorer Robert Falcon Scott by arriving on Dec. 14, 1911, and planting the Norwegian flag.

The continent is dedicated to peaceful research

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(Image credit: Jefferson Beck/NASA.)

The Antarctic Treaty was signed on Dec. 1, 1959, after more than a year of secret negotiations by 12 countries. It dedicates the continent to peaceful research activities. Forty-eight nations have now signed the treaty.

There's research galore

(Image credit: NSF/USAP)

Nearly 30 countries operate more than 80 research stations around the continent, according to 2009 numbers from the Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs.

Andrea Thompson
Live Science Contributor

Andrea Thompson is an associate editor at Scientific American, where she covers sustainability, energy and the environment. Prior to that, she was a senior writer covering climate science at Climate Central and a reporter and editor at Live Science, where she primarily covered Earth science and the environment. She holds a graduate degree in science health and environmental reporting from New York University, as well as a bachelor of science and and masters of science in atmospheric chemistry from the Georgia Institute of Technology.