The Coldest Place on Earth

By Anupum Pant

A couple of days back I wrote about the hottest place on earth. That made me think of how cold the coldest place would be. I was sure it’d be somewhere in one of the poles, but I wasn’t sure where exactly it was.

This is what Google said:

Aerial photograph of Vostok Station, the coldest directly observed location on Earth. The lowest natural temperature ever directly recorded at ground level on Earth is −89.2 °C (−128.6 °F; 184.0 K), at the Soviet Vostok Station in Antarctica, on July 21, 1983.

After a little more digging, I found that his was the old record. Turns out, the coldest place on earth now, not counting the laboratories, is still in the high ridges of the East Antarctic plateau close to Vostok station. It’s called the Dome B. And the coldest times happen when all the conditions are perfect.

When the conditions are right, the temperatures during winters can reach minus 92 degrees Celsius!

Blood Falls – A Strange Place Home to Strange Creatures

By Anupum Pant

Red colored water, which gives it name blood falls, emerges continually from the edge of a glacier in east Antarctica. The source of this red-colored-water is said to be a lake that is buried 400 meters under a glacier. The water of this lake is extremely salty and is about 3 times saltier than sea water. It is so salty that even at temperatures that Antarctica experiences, it doesn’t freeze. The lake is estimated to be around 5 million years old!

5 million years ago, this part of Antarctica was under sea water. Gradually glaciers started collecting around and over the lake. This made the water body isolated from the main sea and it became a lake eventually. Over time, as it got separated – like the Taal lake – it grew saltier (Taal lake got isolated too, but it turned less saltier). With this lake, the organisms living in it got trapped in this natural time capsule too.

What gives it the color red?

The falls are not red due to some mysterious spores that were found in the red rains of Kerala. What gives it that color, is a popular chemical phenomenon – iron rust.

The lake gets its supply of iron from the bedrock below it. As the water leaks out from the edge, the iron present in water gets oxidized. This oxidized or rusted iron gives the water its red color.

And since the lake has almost no supply of oxygen from around it, the water underneath is probably still like…water – not red (I’m not sure about it).

But that isn’t even anything interesting I’ve talked about the blood falls yet. The most incredible thing is the creatures that have been found living in those waters.

For millions of years, in the extremely salty waters of the lake with almost no oxygen or sun light, scientists have found a kind of micro-organism that has survived there. The kind of process they use to live has dazed scientists.

The microbes living there have been surviving on iron and sulfur! By breaking sulfates to get oxygen. And iron has been restoring the sulfates. It is a beautiful cycle that has never been seen anywhere else. This strange cycle has widened our view on how life could exist on other planets without oxygen in native state.

Source – SciShow by Hank Green.

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Gamburtsev Mountain Range – The Unexplored

By Anupum Pant

Unexplored

First, think of something that is 1,200 km in length, 3000 m in height and yet it is complete buried under the Antarctic ice. A whole mountain range called the Gamburtsev Mountain Range in Antarctica has remained unexplored, buried for centuries under a 2 to 4 kilometer thick sheet of ice. The range is named after Grigoriy A. Gamburtsev – a Russian geophysicist.

It amazes me how something of the size of European Alps, right here on earth, has remained unexplored for decades. Scientists estimate that these mountains are several millions of years old. But, till date they have no concrete idea on how they were actually formed.

In the words of Robin Bell, a geophysicist at Columbia University:

Amazingly, we have samples of the moon but none of the Gamburtsevs’.

Discovery: year 1958

In the year 1958, these mountains were discovered by a Soviet expedition. For exploration, this expedition investigated the surface using seismic sounding at around 10 points. During this time, not much detail was known.

Year 2000: It was only in the year 2000 that a project by British Antarctic Survey was able to produce a fairly detailed 3D map of Antarctica to date. As a result, some more information about these mountains was gathered. Still, it wasn’t enough for finding out their origins.

To solve the mystery of their origins, in the year 2011, aircrafts equipped with radars, lasers and various other meters were sent out by researchers to image the last unexplored mountain range on earth. They flew a distance of around 3 times the earth’s circumference over Antarctica – about 120,000 kilometers.
In the end, this flying around returned good results.

This Image gives you a rough idea about how deep these mountains are buried. [PDF]

I hope that in the coming years, scientists will be able to drill through the ice that has accumulated there for millions of years. And then, probably they’ll be able to retrieve real Gamburtsev rock samples for detailed investigation.

Note: Pardon me if I’ve been writing too much in the “Earth” category for the past few days. Trust me it is just a coincidence. In my defense, It is completely possible that a truly random die roll can land 6 consecutive 6s.

The Feynman point is one such example. It is a sequence of 6 nines somewhere in the decimal digits of pi. In short, you cursing me for writing under the same category for the past few days is not justified, logically.

Feynman point