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| | Human World on Jan 16, 2013

This date in science: Shackleton expedition discovered South Magnetic Pole

On January 16, 1909, a Shackleton expedition team in Antarctica succeeded in finding the South Magnetic Pole.

January 16, 1909. Three members of an Ernest Shackleton expedition to Antarctica – Edgeworth David, Douglas Mawson and Alistair Mackay – succeeded in finding the South Magnetic Pole. The South Magnetic Pole is a wandering point in Earth’s Southern Hemisphere, where geomagnetic field lines are directed vertically upwards. The point moves, due to changes in Earth’s magnetic field.

According to the Encyclopedia of Antarctica and the Southern Oceans, the three geologists had arrived at a spot at latitude 72°42′ South the previous day. Using a magnetic dip compass, they calculated they were so close to the magnetic pole that – within 24 hours – the shift in magnetic south should cause the pole to come to the spot on which they stood. On January 16, 1909, the three explorers planted a British flag at the spot and began making their way back to the ship Nimrod, which had carried Shackleton’s team from New Zealand to the southern continent of Antarctica the previous year.

Explorers of the southern continent of Antarctica – Douglas Mawson, Alistair McKay and Edgeworth David – on January 16, 1909 at the South Magnetic Pole. Image via Wikipedia.

It was a milestone for the expedition team. Meanwhile, Shackleton himself tried a few times to get to the physical South Pole, but never succeeded. The honor of being the first to reach there fell to Roald Amundsen’s expedition, which arrived in 1911.

Ernest Shackleton’s expedition failed in reaching the physical south pole, but they did find the location of the magnetic south pole. Photo credit: Walt Stoneburner/Flickr

Bottom line: On January 16, 1909, three members of an Ernest Shackleton expedition to Antarctica succeeded in finding the South Magnetic Pole.