Reaching the Pole

Another thread on here about exploration remind me that I’ve often wondered how close to the exact North/South Pole the early explorers got when they “reached” it.

Presumably they took latitude measurements from the stars, but does anyone know how accurate these were likely to have been?

I assume by stars, you mean “the Sun” since the explorers always made their attempts at the Pole during the summer when the sun did not set.

As for the North Pole, there is still considerable argument as to whether Dr. Cook ever got anywhere near it, or was merely a hoaxer.

The validity of his claim rests on whether, as he insisted, his Inuit guides could not tell the difference between ice and solid land; he insisted that he kept telling them that there was land on the horizon because they found it reassuring. They, on the other hand, insisted that there was always land in sight because Cook merely kept them going in circles to kill time before he went back and said he had been to the pole. My guess is that Eskimos, by and large, know what ice looks like.

Cook submitted astronomical data to validate his claim. A board of inquiry to which he submitted his data concluded that his observations were consistent with someone who was floating in space somewhere between the orbits of Mercury and Venus. A personal observation which may or may not be relevant here; it has been my observation that compulsive liars often aren’t very good at making up the stories they insist are true.

It appears that Peary never got to the pole either, though it is widely thought that he made a good faith effort, and got as close as he was able given the limitations inherant in the technology he had at hand with which to determine his position.

The first explorers to get to the North Pole for an absolute fact did so in 1969.

Uh, yeah, good point.

So what I want to know is this: how did the explorers know exactly when to stop, plant their flag into the snow and say, “Aha, this is the pole.”? Was it really just a matter of guesswork? What if it was cloudy?

An absolute fact as measured by what?

In answer to the OP, Peary’s instruments were accurate enough to place him within 5 miles of the pole. But, having located his “rough” position, Peary then spent an entire day roaming around, so in theory he would almost certainly have been closer at some point.

As for Slipster’s suggestion that Peary didn’t get there, I’d love to see a thread in Great Debates, but I feel it only fair to add that a couple of earlier threads on the subject sank like lead balloons.

When Scott reached the South Pole he found the Norwegian flag left by Amundsen, so both must have been pretty close. (Or off by the same amount, I suppose.)

OK, I’m going off memory here, but here’s what I seem to recall:

For the South Pole, Amundsen’s crew did a series of measurements that basically “trapped” the Pole within some “small distance.” I seem to recall that in one edition of “The Guiness Book of World Records,” that a reassessment of the information indicated that one member of the party (don’t recall who) probably walked within a few hundred yards of the actual spot.

The Peary controversy is nothing new, although some reassessments seem to give a little more credence to his having attained at least the “5 or so miles” that his instruments would have indicated. Again, citing a previous “Guinness” edition, they eschew the controversy and just say what slipster said. I think the point there is that since it was widely believed for so long that Peary had indeed reached the North Pole, there was no rush to be second–maybe. They’re just saying that they know for a fact that it happened in 1969, whether it had happened previously or not.

Another instance of the Peary controversy, here are the two entries for the 1980 M-W Dictionary’s Biographical Names section:

Roald Amundsen: (1872-1928) Norwegian polar explorer; discovered South Pole (1911)

Robert Peary: (1856-1920) American polar explorer.

Maybe they’ll change it in future editions.

Oh, my source (I think) for “trapping the Pole” was the book “The Last Place on Earth,” but it’s been quite a while.

By measuring the elevation of the Sun in the sky. When it peaks for the day, it’s local noon and the elevation minus the declination of the Sun equals your distance in latitude from the Pole. When elevation equals declination throughout the day, you’re at the Pole. It isn’t cloudy very often at the Poles because the cold air doesn’t hold much water. As far as I know, when it was cloudy, the explorers were SOL.

Does the sun peak at noon at the Pole? I wouldn’t have thought it would… firstly, what is “noon”? All the time zones converge at the Pole. Thinking about it, wouldn’t the sun just keep circling the horizon, slowly rising over the weeks until it reached the higest point at the summer solstice, then slowly sinking again until it set for winter?

Hmm, my head hurts just thinking about it. Maybe I’m not cut out for polar exploration :slight_smile:

(Of course, finding the south pole is easier… just keep 'em peeled for that great big American igloo…)

You’re correct, there is no noon at the north pole. But remember that the north pole is a point which has no dimensions.

So for all practical purposes you will always be at least some small distance from the pole. And at even a small distance there will be a “theoretical” noon. The key is when does this noon become large enough to measure. This why neither Peary or Amundsen could pinpoint the poles. Neither tried because it would have been impossible given the equipment, circumstances, etc.

But Peary and Amundsen both knew what the altitude of the sun should be at their respective poles for each day of the year. So you measure the altitude of the sun, if it’s a little too high then you wait until it reaches it’s highest point (local noon) and you know that the pole lies in the direction opposite the sun.

If it’s a little too low then you wait until it reaches it’s lowest point (local midnight) and the pole lies in the direction of the sun.

I don’t understand the method, but I have read that at least Peary also had a method for determining the direction of the pole at, I beleive, 6:00am and 6:00pm.

What’s so hard about finding where the North Pole is? Just look for Santa’s workshop and you’re there! :smiley:

Or does this mean… he doesn’t exist after all?