On January 19, 1840, Charles Wilkes, in command of the United States Exploring Expedition, discovered the continent of Antarctica. A fleet of six American ships carrying scientists and explorers left from the state of Virginia in 1838. The fleet made its way down the coast of South America, into the Pacific Ocean, throughout the islands of Polynesia, and Australia before sighting Antarctica. (The expedition went on to circumnavigate the globe by sailing through the islands of Southeast Asia, the Indian Ocean, and the Cape of Good Hope, before finally docking in New York City in June 1842.)

Heading south from Sydney, Australia, Wilkes sighted a wall of ice, beyond which lay the headlands and mountains of a previously unknown continent. The expedition charted more than 2,414 kilometers (1,500 miles) of this new coastline. This was the southwestern corner of Antarctica, now known as Wilkes’ Land in honor of its discoverer.

Noun

Earth's fifth-largest continental landmass.

circumnavigate
Verb

to go completely around something (usually the Earth).

Noun

edge of land along the sea or other large body of water.

Noun

one of the seven main land masses on Earth.

expedition
Noun

journey with a specific purpose, such as exploration.

explorer
Noun

person who studies unknown areas.

fleet
Noun

group of ships, usually organized for military purposes.

headland
Noun

point of land, usually a steep cliff, that descends into a body of water.

Noun

water in its solid form.

Polynesia
Noun

island group in the Pacific Ocean between New Zealand, Hawaii, and Easter Island.

More Dates in History

January
MonTueWedThuFriSatSun
31 1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30 31 1 2 3
More Events on this Date