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Boffins probe mystery of ANTARCTIC BLOOD GLACIER

Hypersaline, oxygen-free waters may resemble conditions on Enceladus or Europa

Scientists have retrieved samples thought to be the cause of a red stain on Taylor Glacier, a 54km-long tongue in Antarctica.

The stain has earned the name Blood Falls and is thought to be the result of iron-rich material trapped in a sub-glacial lake. Scientists have analysed Blood Falls' water in the past, and found microbes that appear to be capable of metabolising sulphurous and ferrous material, making them additions to the growing list of extremophiles that find ways to live without direct input of solar energy or oxygen.

But they've yet to determine if those microbes come from the Falls or originated in the sub-glacial lake. Enter the The Minimally Invasive Direct Glacial Exploration (MIDGE) project, which last week reported it has successfully drilled into a fissure in the Glacier thought to provide access to pristine sub-glacial liquids. The MIDGE team are now in possession of vials of material sucked some out from deep beneath the ice.

Scientists are interested in the results to teach us more about how life operates on Earth, but also because it's thought that moons like Saturn's Enceladus and Jupiter's Europa offer similar conditions to those found beneath Taylor Glacier.

Both moons are both considered decent candidates to have liquid oceans beneath icy crusts, and to be places where life may have evolved. Learning more about what's beneath Taylor Glacier therefor also gives us a chance of figuring out if we are entirely alone in the universe. MIDGE is partly funded by a National Science Foundation grant of US$1.38m, surely a small price to pay for such knowledge. ®


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