In the icy landscape of Antarctica there is an amazing natural object – the “Bloody Falls”. This unusual sight was discovered back in 1911 by geologist Thomas Griffith Taylor, who attributed it to red algae. Only half a century later, it was revealed that the crimson color was caused by iron salts. The most interesting thing is that the water is initially transparent, but turns red after emerging from under the ice, as the iron is oxidized in the air.
A team of scientists recently conducted a study that helped unravel the long-standing mystery of Bloody Falls. They studied water samples and found that iron appears in an unexpected form – in the form of nanospheres 100 times smaller than human red blood cells. This finding has significance beyond Antarctica and even beyond Earth.
Just a few years ago, scientists were able to trace water to its source, an extremely salty subglacial lake under high pressure, with no light or oxygen and a microbial ecosystem that had remained isolated for millions of years. Life may exist on other planets in similarly inhospitable conditions, but we may not be sending the right equipment to detect it.
Ken Levey, author of the study, notes that our work has shown that rover analysis is incomplete for determining the true nature of environmental materials on planets’ surfaces. This is especially true for colder planets such as Mars, where the materials formed may be nanoscale and non-crystalline. Consequently, our methods for identifying these materials are inadequate. To truly understand the nature of the surface of rocky planets, a transmission electron microscope is needed, but it is currently impossible to place one on Mars.
The study was published in Frontiers in Astronomy and Space Sciences.