On April 29th, 2015 we learned about

Briny lakes source of Antarctica’s Blood Falls

Antarctica is a desert, with some of the lowest precipitation rates on Earth (but not the lowest). There’s obviously some water locked in the form of ice and snow, but it’s not really a wet place. At least not on the surface.

There’s a landmark called the Blood Falls, a five-story waterfall of red water oozing out of the ice. The striking color is thanks to iron oxide, but more intriguing is the briny nature of the water, as well as the bacteria living in it. Since salty water has a lower freezing temperature, it’s possible for underground (under-ice?) lakes to be feeding the Blood Falls without freezing. Scientists now want to determine the full scope of those lakes, which may be connected in a network that might extend to the ocean itself.

A template for extraterrestrial exploration

One possible benefit to learning about this lake system is that it may be usable as a model for exploring other planets or moons. As we get better at tracking briny water under ice, it may be useful again for future missions to Mars or frozen moons like Europa or Ganymede (if you’ve got a long enough drill). The bacteria that can survive in these cold conditions may provide a template as well. Learning the adaptations necessary for this environment may help us know where to look for similarly adapted life forms off Earth.

Source: Scientists find the origin of Antarctica’s creepy ‘Blood Falls’ by Rachel Feltman, Speaking of Science

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