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Antarctica Home to Scientists Solving World Mysteries

Scuba diver Luis Torres tests the water near the Chilean scientific station Escudero in Villa Las Estrellas on King George Island on Jan 21.

Wooden arrows show the distances to various cities near Chile's Escudero station on King George Island, Antarctica on Jan. 20.

Scientists from all over the world come to Antartica to find the clues to answering humanity's most basic questions: Where did we come from? Are we alone in the universe? What's the fate of our warming planet?

Natacha Pisarenko / AP

Chilean Alejo Contreras, 53, looks through a window on King George Island in Antarctica on Jan. 28. Exploring Antarctica is something Contreras began dreaming about as a teen after reading Robert Falcon Scott's journal of his journey to the South Pole. When Contreras finally got to the South Pole in 1988, he stopped shaving his beard. Antarctica is "like the planet’s freezer," said Contreras, who has led more than a dozen expeditions to the continent.

Natacha Pisarenko / AP

Penguins walk on the shore of Bahia Almirantazgo on Jan. 27. The first explorers set foot in Antarctica 194 years ago hunting 19th century riches of whale and seal oil and fur, turning tides red with blood.

Natacha Pisarenko / AP

Holy Trinity church stands illuminated at Russia's Bellinghausen station on King George Island on Feb. 1. Holy Trinity is the world's southernmost Eastern Orthodox Church.

Natacha Pisarenko / AP

Chilean Navy officers push away ice by moving their boat in circles as they approach the Aquiles navy ship where they will pick up international scientists and take them to Chile's scientific Station Bernardo O'Higgins in Antarctica on Jan. 22.

Any pollution captured in the pristine ice and snow is from chemicals that traveled from afar, such as low levels of lead found in ice until it was phased out of gasoline, or radiation levels found from above-ground nuclear tests thousands of miles away and decades ago by the U.S. and the Soviet Union, according to David Vaughan, science director of the British Antarctic Survey.

Natacha Pisarenko / AP

Members of the Spanish base Gabriel de Castilla, and scientists watch a movie on Deception Island, part of the South Shetland Islands archipelago in Antarctica on Jan. 24. As an active volcano, Deception Island is a pot of extreme conditions. There are spots where the sea boils while in others it can be freezing. And while the sun rarely shines on the long, dark Antarctic winters, night time never seems to fall on summer days.

Natacha Pisarenko / AP

A Gentoo penguin feeds its baby at Station Bernardo O'Higgins in Antarctica on Jan. 22.

Natacha Pisarenko / AP

Scuba diver Luis Torres tests the water near the Chilean scientific station Escudero in Villa Las Estrellas on King George Island on Jan 21.

Natacha Pisarenko / AP

A church is lit in the town of Villa Las Estrellas on King George Island on Jan. 20.

Natacha Pisarenko / AP

Chilean Navy officers transport scientists to Chile's Station Bernardo O'Higgins on Jan. 22.

Natacha Pisarenko / AP