Polar bears never, ever eat penguins. Why? Because they are found at opposite ends of the Earth! Polar bears roam within the Arctic Circleincluding the North Pole. Penguins are found only in the Southern Hemisphere, mostly near Earth's South Pole, in Antarctica.
The North Pole spends half the year in darkness and half in light. As the Earth orbits the sun, its axis stays constant. That means for half the orbit the Earth's axis is tilted toward the sun and for the other half the axis is tilted away from the sun.
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Sunrise at the North Pole occurs on the spring equinoxaround March 21. The sun then climbs higher each day until the summer solstice on about June 21. Sunlight is continuous throughout the summer, but after the solstice the sun slowly sinks to the horizon until it drops below on the autumn equinox (around September 21). Twilight then prevails until early October, and then full darkness endures until the spring sunrise.
The famous northern lights appear as bands, clouds and rays of green, red, and blue lights in the night sky. The aurora borealis (Latin for "northern dawn") occurs in an oval around the north magnetic pole.
The aurora is caused when charged electrons and protons from the sun reach Earth and collide with atoms and molecules (like oxygen and nitrogen) in the upper atmosphere near the pole. Some of the energy released by these collisions becomes visual lightand treats onlookers to a spectacular sky show.
What's Santa's proper mailing address? Some 100,000 letters addressed to "Santa Claus, North Pole," wing their way each year to 99705. That's the zip code for North Pole, Alaska, and the subject of the ZipUSA feature in the December 2000 issue of National Geographic magazine.
About 1,750 miles (2,820 kilometers) south of its polar namesake, North Pole in Alaska is a lot more festive than the arctic Pole. The town, which bills itself as a place "where the spirit of Christmas lives year-round," has street names like Snowman Lane and Saint Nicholas Drive and dresses its lampposts like candy canes.
In Canada the address for Santa is North Pole H0H 0H0. This official Canadian postal code lets 15,000 volunteer postal employees help Santa personally answer over one million annual Christmas lettersmany from outside Canada.
Polar flights allow airlines to trim hours off flight times from North America and Europe to Asia and the Pacific Region. By crossing over the polar region, planes are able to fly shorter distances and burn less fuel. The routes help keep ticket prices down and reduce harmful emissions. The flights became possible only after the ending of the Cold War, when Russia allowed commercial airliners to fly over Siberia.
No one lives at the North Pole, but plenty of people survive in its Arctic neighborhood. Oil, minerals, and diamonds have lured waves of new immigrants to the often-challenging environment north of the Arctic Circle. In Russia, Alaska, and Canada some 170,000 Aleuts, Indians, Eskimos, Métis and other indigenous people adapt their ancient ways to a quickly shifting economic and environmental landscape.
The long dreamed-of Northwest Passage, an Arctic shipping shortcut between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, could be ice free and open for summer travel sometime this century. The route passes below Iceland and Greenland, through Arctic Canada and along Alaska's north coast.
Scientists disagree on just when the shrinking ice cap could make the route feasible, but if it happens, ships traveling from Europe to Asia could shave some 4,000 miles (6,400 kilometers) from their current route through the Panama Canal.
Brian Handwerk is a freelance journalist based in Amherst, New Hampshire.
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