Century-old mystery behind Antarctica's Blood Falls finally solved
After more than a century of intrigue, scientists have discovered why Taylor Glacier in Antarctica bleeds 'crimson red' drool from its tongue. First discovered in 1911 by a British expedition to the continent, researchers had been confused up until now as to what could be the cause of bleeding from the Blood Falls.
Scientists, using samples from Taylor Glacier's rusty tongue in November 2006 and mid and late November 2018 managed to uncover that the reason for the iconic red hue was the presence of little 'iron-rich nanospheres'.
"As soon as I looked at the microscope images, I noticed that there were these little nanospheres and they were iron-rich and they have lots of different elements in them besides iron - silicon, calcium, aluminum, sodium, and they all varied," said Ken Livi, a materials scientist at John Hopkins University.
The red waterfall is located in the McMurdo Dry Valleys region of Antarctica, regarded as one of the coldest and least habitable places in the world. Livi stated that an array of analytical equipment including powerful transmission electron microscopes was needed to decipher the mystery.
He added that nanospheres remained undetected by the researchers because they believed that some sort of mineral was causing the "bloody" water while nanospheres aren't considered minerals.
"In order to be a mineral, atoms must be arranged in a very specific, crystalline, structure. These nanospheres aren't crystalline, so the methods previously used to examine the solids did not detect them."
Livi explained that just the way scientists were not able to figure out the lifeform beneath the glacier due to not using the right equipment, we might be missing out on a similar situation on Mars. The rovers sent on the red planet might not be able to detect all the lifeforms present beneath a planet's icy bodies.
The spectroscopic equipment used to identify the nanospheres in the current study, for instance, could not be taken to Antarctica. Instead, samples had to be sent to labs overseas.
"Our work has revealed that the analysis conducted by rover vehicles is incomplete in determining the true nature of environmental materials on planet surfaces," says Livi.
"This is especially true for colder planets like Mars, where the materials formed may be nanosized and non-crystalline. Consequently, our methods for identifying these materials are inadequate."
Currently, it is not possible to attach bulky equipment like an electron microscope to a Mars rover. The scientists will need the sample collected by the rover to be returned to Earth if the mysteries regarding the Red Planet are to be solved and explore nanoscopic evidence of life.