Sign of the apocalypse: blood waterfalls

Sign of the apocalypse: blood waterfalls

Sign of the apocalypse: blood waterfalls

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
March 2 2010 7:00 AM

Sign of the apocalypse: blood waterfalls

Our planet is a weird place. I can imagine visiting Antactica, seeing nothing but white ice and gray rocks for days on end... but then, how would you react when you saw this?

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

bloodfalls

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Yegads! That is a part of Taylor Glacier, specifically the Blood Falls, located in the dry valleys of Antarctica. Apparently, a lake was covered by the glacier about 2 million years ago, trapping the microbial life inside. They have evolved independently of outside life for all that time, and were discovered due to a few leaks from under the glacier.

The water coming out is red due to iron, and is incredibly salty with almost no oxygen in it. The microbes -- 17 different kinds have been found there -- must use sulfur as a catalyst instead of oxygen, which has never been seen before.

It's always surprising when an entirely alien ecosystem is found on Earth. It makes me hopeful that when we start to explore other planets, we'll find life in splendid and incredible varieties. Nature is clever, vast, and has had a long long time in the lab to experiment. If we can find things so alien in a place so familiar, what will happen when we explore a truly alien world?

Image credit: United States Antarctic Program Photo Library