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Mike White

Vacation to Mars: Antarctica's Dry Valleys

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Mike White

Most of Antarctica has about 2 1/2 miles of ice covering it, and that cold, white wasteland is what most people picture when they think of our south pole. But as I discovered when I posted about its mysterious Blood Falls, there is a series of dry valleys in Antarctica, about 4,000 kilometers square, that have no ice on them at all. The world's harshest desert, the moisture is sucked from the dry valleys by a rain shadow effect -- winds rushing over them at speeds up to 200/mph -- that leave this bizarre and fascinating landscape, much closer to that of Mars than the rest of our planet, open to exploration.

Lacking the resources (or cojones) to go there myself, these photos are by scientists and researchers who've been there, and are included as part of galleries on the McMurdo Dry Valleys Management Area website.

The Valleys have been carved out by glaciers that have retreated, exposing valley floors and walls that typically have a top layer of boulders, gravel and pebbles, which are weathered and wind-sorted. Lower layers are largely cemented together by ice. Unusual surface deposits include marine sediments, ash, and sand dunes like this one:

sand - chris kannen
Photo by Chris Kannen

Another thing you wouldn't expect to find in the coldest place on Earth? Running water. In the summer, bodies of water unfreeze enough to make water flow, like the continent's largest and longest river, the Onyx, which is fed exclusively by glacial melt. This little stream is frozen, but you get the picture:

stream - sean fitzsimmons
Photo by Sean Fitzimmons

However, there are some bodies of water in the dry valleys -- mostly small, hypersaline ponds -- that never freeze. Imagine how strange it would be to find, in weather 100 degrees below zero (and in the depths of a months-long night) this little patch of salty liquid, known as Don Juan Pond:

don juan pond - malcom mcleod
Photo by Malcom McLeod

It looks so dry and calm in most of these pictures, it's hard to comprehend just how arid and cold it really gets there. Here are a few pictures that might help -- a dead seal, frozen solid and mummified, absolutely dehydrated.
mummified seal - chris kannen
Photo by Chris Kannen

And some very cold-looking rocks!
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Photo by Andris Apse

Then there are places that look like they might as well be on the moon, like these pillars of dolerite in the Kennar Valley. (They remind me of the tufa rock formations in California.)
pillars of dolerite - gretchen williams
Photo by Gretchen Williams

Below is a volcanic "labyrinth," a very special formation of basalt, which geologist Edmond Mathez describes this way:

The dikes and sills of the Dry Valleys are the remnants of a kind of plumbing system through which magma worked its way to the surface in a series of eruptions about 180 million years ago. Volcanic plumbing systems are rarely exposed at the surface. The reason is simply that around active volcanoes, lava covers everything. Exposed to view in various parts of the Dry Valleys, however, is a vertical slice of the dikes and sills immediately beneath the lavas, which cuts across layers of rock two and a half miles thick. Hence along the valley walls, geologists can see much deeper into the volcanic plumbing than they can almost anywhere else.

labyrinth - peter rejcek
Photo by Peter Rejcek

It's not just scientists that visit the dry valleys, though. Small groups of tourists are allowed to helicopter in from the Ross Sea, to a specially designated area near the Canada glacier -- so if you're loaded and ready to freeze your buns off, that sounds like fun. There's also this guy, a painter named Nigel Brown, who won a fellowship to come and paint in the valleys. Look, he made a weird painting of Blood Falls:

blood falls painter - tim higham
Photo by Tim Higham

If you've ever dreamed about visiting an alien world, this is probably as close as any of us will be able to get.

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Check Out These Images of Last Night's Spectacular Harvest Moon
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Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Each year, a special moon comes calling around the autumnal equinox: the Harvest Moon. The Harvest Moon—the full moon that falls nearest to the equinox—rises near sunset for several days in a row, making early evenings extra-bright for a few days when farmers traditionally reveled in the extra-long twilight while harvesting their crops at the end of the summer season. And because the moon looks larger and more orange when it's near the horizon, it's particularly spectacular as it rises.

The Harvest Moon
Matt Cardy/Getty Images

October 5 marked 2017’s Harvest Moon, and you may have noticed an extra spectacular sky if you were looking up last night. It's rare for the Harvest Moon to come so late in the year: The last time it came in October was in 2009. (Last year's fell on September 16, 2016.) Here are a few luminous lunar pictures from the event, some of which make the moon look totally unreal:

And if you missed seeing the event yourself, don't worry too much: the moon will still look full for several days.

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7 Throwback Photos of 1980s NYC Subway Graffiti
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In May 1989, after a 15-year-long campaign of slowly eradicating New York City’s subway graffiti train-by-train, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority officially declared the city’s subways graffiti-free. There’s still subway graffiti in New York City today, but now it's confined to rail yards far away from the stations and tunnels. By the time the trains make it back onto the tracks, they’ve been cleaned of any markings.

There was a time, though, when graffiti artists had near-free rein to use the city’s subway trains as their canvases, as much as the transportation agency tried to stop them. A new book of photography, From the Platform 2: More NYC Subway Graffiti, 1983–1989, is an ode to that period.

A photo taken at night shows a subway train tagged

Its authors, Paul and Kenny Cavalieri, are two brothers from the Bronx who began taking photos of subway trains in 1983, during the heyday of New York City's graffiti art era. They themselves were also graffiti artists who went by the names Cav and Key, respectively. (Above is an example of Cav's work from 1988, and below is an example of Key's.) Their book is a visual tribute to their youth, New York's graffiti culture, and their fellow artists.

For anyone who rides the New York City subway today, the images paint a whole different picture of the system. Let yourself be transported back to the '80s in some of these photos: 

A subway car bears tags by
Some of Kenny (Key) Cavalieri's work, circa 1987.

Graffiti on a subway car reads

Blue letters tagged on the exterior of a subway car read “Comet.”

Pink and blue lettering reads “Bio” on the outside of a subway car.

A subway car reads “Pove” in green letters.

The book includes short commentaries and essays from other artists of the period remembering their experiences painting trains. It's a follow-up to Paul Cavalieri’s original 2011 collection From the Platform: Subway Graffiti, 1983-1989. He’s also the author of Under the Bridge: The East 238th Street Graffiti Hall Of Fame, a history of four decades of graffiti in the Bronx.

From the Platform 2 is $30 on Amazon.

[h/t The Guardian]

All images courtesy Paul and Kenny Cavalieri // Schiffer Publishing

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