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Antarctic “Blood Falls” Mystery Finally Solved

By: Matthew Wang

The blood-red waterfall in the Antarctic, aptly named Blood Falls, has puzzled scientists for years as to why the highly salty water has a blood-red appearance. The explorer who found the anomaly, Thomas Griffith Taylor, believed the cause to be red algae. However, later scientists believed it to be iron, but when they tested the water they found only trace amounts. Now, with better technology, scientists have finally found the cause–nanospheres containing minute amounts of several elements.

As reported by Dogonews, the reason these nanosphere particles eluded scientists for so long was their unique shape. All minerals form a crystalline structure, so these non-crystal nanospheres that contained iron eluded detection from scanners. Due to their unpredictable shape, mineral scanners, which are tuned to detect specific properties of crystalline shapes, struggle to find these elusive particles, resulting in faulty readings.

These nanospheres that were found in the Blood Falls were caused by bacteria living in an environment that lacked oxygen and sunlight and had extremely salty water. However, it wasn’t always this way. When the Antarctic completely froze over, these microbes became trapped underneath thick ice that prevented sunlight and oxygen from entering. In response, microbes have evolved to get their oxygen from breaking sulfates, which contain oxygen atoms.

The conditions these bacteria survive in are very similar to conditions on Mars, including a lack of oxygen and extremely cold conditions, hinting at possible life forms still alive there today. In fact, the majority of our understanding of Mars comes from Mars rovers, which do not carry equipment designated to detect these nanoparticles. If those nanoparticles were to be discovered, there may be microbes on Mars utilizing the same technique to obtain oxygen to survive. With this new discovery there is more hope for scientists adamant about discovering new things that are out of this world.

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