Australian Antarctic expeditioners have participated in a Midwinter tradition that sees them swimming in Antarctica’s below-freezing waters. 21 out of 26 individuals at Casey Research Station took a dip in the -2 degrees Celsius, or 28.4 degrees Fahrenheit, pool that was cut from the sea ice. The temperature outside the water was around -22 degrees Celsius, which was cold enough to deter the other 5 people from making the plunge.
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Midwinter day, also known as the winter solstice, is the Antarctic calendar’s most anticipated occasion, which has been celebrated as far back as the time of early explorers like Sir Douglas Mawson, a key expedition leader during the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. The astronomical phenomenon, also called hibernal solstice, occurs when the axial tilt of Earth and gyroscopic effects of its daily rotation mean that the two opposite points in the sky to which the Earth's axis of rotation points change very slowly.
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Midwinter day marks the day with the shortest period of daylight and the longest night of the year. The December solstice occurs in the Northern Hemisphere and the June solstice happens in the Southern Hemisphere. This is the halfway point of the year that signals the sun’s extended daily presence in the sky. Aside from the heroic swim, Australia’s three Antarctic research stations, as well as those at the sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island, enjoy a big meal, gift exchange, themed plays and messages from home.
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The celebrations enjoyed by the 75 Australian Antarctic Program expeditioners also happen at their headquarters in Tasmania. Casey Station Leader, Rebecca Jeffcoat, said of the location, “The environment is spectacular and harsh, and we experience the most incredible range of conditions, from below freezing blizzards to auroras, or the midwinter twilight as the sun skims the horizon.”