When the sun dipped below the horizon on Sunday at the Concordia research station in Antarctica, the 15 crew members who live there were ready for a long night -- nearly four months long. Until 3:13 in the afternoon of August 10, the sun won't shine on their remote home again.
For the three months until then, the scientists will work under artificial lights, and they'll have round-the-clock views of the magnificent Antarctic night sky. "The night brings darkness, promising a blackness to put fear in us, but also supplying a great spectacle -- the stars, the Milky Way and something even more amazing" -- the Aurora Australis, crewmember Antonio Litterio wrote on the expedition's blog.
The European Space Agency supports one doctor to live at the station during the winter months. "Living in isolation without sunlight in small quarters is similar in many ways to a long voyage on a spacecraft," it explains. And so now, with the sun sunk low beyond the horizon, our astronauts at the bottom of the planet have launched into their night, one small piece of research that propels our manned spaceflight endeavors, and may someday bring humans into that night sky that hangs above the icy continent.