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Russia - Novaya Zemlya

Novaya Zemlya is one of the most northerly points of land on Earth, lying at latitude of approximately 73 degrees north. As this is about 7 degrees north of the Arctic Circle, Novaya Zemlya experiences long stretches of never-ending darkness in winter and weeks on end when the sun never sets in summer. "Summer" is a relative term on Novaya Zemlya, as the islands are heavily glaciated and what ice-free land there is, is treeless tundra. Novaya Zemlya is part of Russia and traders from the Novgorod area first traveled there over 1,000 years ago. Explorers such as Willem Barents and Henry Hudson visited Novaya Zemlya in the 16th and 17th centuries respectively, as they searched fruitlessly for the famed Northwest Passage to the Orient.

Novaya Zemlya consists of two main islands separated by the Matochkin Straight, which is very narrow and often iced over. The total area of Novaya Zemlya is rather large, slightly over 34,000 square miles or about the same as the state of South Carolina in the US. It would be hard to find a more inhospitable place for people to live than Novaya Zemlya. Most of the land is rugged and mountainous, with jagged peaks reaching an average height of 3,000 feet. The islands separate the Kara Sea from the Barents Sea, both frigid bodies of water. A small population of approximately 100 Nenets aboriginal people manages to scrape out a subsistence livelihood on Novaya Zemlya by fishing.

Perhaps Novaya Zemlya's greatest, or only, claim to fame is that it was the chief site for the testing of atomic and hydrogen bombs by the former Soviet Union. Over 200 nuclear explosions rocked the islands during decades of testing. The culmination of these tests was the enormous 50-megaton explosion of the "Tsar Bomba" in 1961, the largest atomic explosion the world has ever seen. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Novaya Zemlya has been gradually opened to visitors who marvel at the raw beauty of its mountain vistas beneath eerie displays of the Northern Lights.


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