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It has the coldest, windiest and driest places on Earth.

If it melted, world sea levels would rise by 16 feet.

Its population never rises to much more than 4000 visiting scientists and, if you stand at one certain point – 90 degrees south, 45 degrees East – every direction you look is North.

Since its discovery in 1820, Antarctica's barren and frozen wastelands have mystified, enchanted and puzzled people across the globe.

Almost twice the size of Australia, boffins are constantly learning new things about life there.

For example, despite the freezing conditions, its Mount Erebus volcano has been active for 1.4 million years and just recently previously undiscovered organisms were found living in its volcanic ice caves.

For decades it was believed nothing could live under its massive ice sheets, but colossal squid, spiders the size of dinner plates, giant worms and other weird and wonderful creatures have now been discovered.

But being one of the least explored places on earth, Antarctica is also home to its fair share of wild conspiracy theories.

An enduring one is that after World War II, Hitler escaped there in a submarine and lived in secret bases built by the Nazis in 1938.

Others claim the Nazis flew revolutionary aircraft there, based on crashed UFO designs, and set up a "Last Battalion" in a giant military base hoping to one day restart the war.

Conspiracy theorists claim British and American forces tried to wipe out this base numerous times, before finally destroying it with nuclear weapons in 1958.

Such theories are loosely based on the facts the British kept a small military force in the area during the war and American forces later conducted a survival exercise there.

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However, critics of the secret base theory point out out the nearest nuclear explosion to Antarctica took place 1,500 miles away and while Germans did visit there in 1938 on a small whaling vessel, they left after they were poisoned by eating bad polar bear meat.

Others believe the lost city of Atlantis is buried beneath the continent's kilometres of ice.

While scientists have confirmed Antarctica once had a mild climate, and plant and dinosaur fossils have been discovered, Antarctica became totally frozen about 15 million years ago and the first 'humans' evolved around two million years ago.

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Google earth, which allows people to explore remote parts of the earth without actually leaving their sofas, has also led to some bizarre theories.

These discoveries include an "air vent" which goes underground and could be a UFO exhaust pipe, a 400 foot long ship buried in the ice, a UFO crash site and a 40 foot alien figure laying on the ice. Others claim ice covered pyramid shaped hills and mountains are actually alien-built pyramids underneath the snow.

Cynics have said it would be unusual if photos of an entire continent, taken mainly from satellites far above, did not throw up some unusual shapes and shadows.

As ever though, the truth is almost stranger than fiction.

One 'alien' invader does exist on Antarctica and is flourishing there.

While most insects and other species cannot live in its harsh climate, in the 1960s some plants were transported from South Georgia to a warmer part of Antarctica to see if they could survive there.

On the plants were unwelcome and undiscovered tiny passengers, flightless midges called Eretmoptera murphyi.

These have not only survived but are thriving. Scientists are also concerned marine species which travel to the area on the hulls of cruise ships, such as barnacles and seaweeds, could also affect its eco-system.

As for Nazis and aliens planning to take over the world from Antarctica?

The last word should perhaps go to esteemed scientist and astronomer Carl Sagan who spent his life researching extraterrestial life and concluded "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."

  • Science

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