• The ESA shared a photo of the "last Antarctic sunset" before four months of winter
  • During Antarctic winters, the sun does not rise
  • The environment provides scienctists with unique research opportunities

The European Space Agency (ESA) shared a photo of the "last Antarctic sunset" before the next few months' of total darkness. This Antarctic environment provides a unique opportunity for scientists.

It was on May 3 the 16th crew of the Concordia research station began their winter-over period in Antarctica. In the image shared by the ESA, the crew members are saying seen goodbye to the "last Antarctic sunset."

Last Antarctic Sunset
Image: The last Antarctic sunset before several months of darkness. ESA/IPEV/PNRA–S. Guesnier

After the sunset, the 12 members of the crew will be living in darkness for the next couple of months. This is because the Concordia research base lies at the southern most tip of the Earth where there are only two seasons: summer and winter.

During summer, the Sun does not set, while during winter it does not rise. Due to this, the crew members at the facility have to live without sunlight for four months out of the year.

According to the ESA, Concordia is one of the three research stations operating year-round in the middle of the Antarctic ice sheet.

Apart from studying the glaciers, scientists also go to Antarctica to study meteorites since their number there is equal to the number of meteorites in the rest of the world combined. It is also much easier to locate the meteorites because Antarctica is covered in snow, which effectively preserves them.

As a place of extremes where temperatures can drop to -80 degrees Celsius, researchers also use Antarctica as a means to prepare for future space missions. For instance, NASA has previously tested robots in Antarctica because the desert conditions are similar to Mars, while the ESA has used the Concordia research base as a model for extraterrestrial planets.

Because of the harsh conditions in the region, scientists also come to these facilities to study human psychology and physiology, given the isolation and sensory deprivation people tend to experience in the area.

Furthermore, having an environment with no sunlight for months at a time is an opportunity for scientists to study the possible effect of spaceflight on astronauts, as in space also astronauts do not get sunlight.

This is the same condition the crew members will experience in the next few months.

"The coming months will prove the most challenging for the group but potentially also the most rewarding," the ESA said.