Mike White
Mike White

Vacation to Mars: Antarctica's Dry Valleys

Mike White
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!
K2110708_30615
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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ESA/Herschel/SPIRE; M. W. L. Smith et al 2017
Look Closely—Every Point of Light in This Image Is a Galaxy
ESA/Herschel/SPIRE; M. W. L. Smith et al 2017
ESA/Herschel/SPIRE; M. W. L. Smith et al 2017

Even if you stare closely at this seemingly grainy image, you might not be able to tell there’s anything to it besides visual noise. But it's not static—it's a sliver of the distant universe, and every little pinprick of light is a galaxy.

As Gizmodo reports, the image was produced by the European Space Agency’s Herschel Space Observatory, a space-based infrared telescope that was launched into orbit in 2009 and was decommissioned in 2013. Created by Herschel’s Spectral and Photometric Imaging Receiver (SPIRE) and Photodetector Array Camera and Spectrometer (PACS), it looks out from our galaxy toward the North Galactic Pole, a point that lies perpendicular to the Milky Way's spiral near the constellation Coma Berenices.

A close-up of a view of distant galaxies taken by the Herschel Space Observatory
ESA/Herschel/SPIRE; M. W. L. Smith et al 2017

Each point of light comes from the heat of dust grains between different stars in a galaxy. These areas of dust gave off this radiation billions of years before reaching Herschel. Around 1000 of those pins of light belong to galaxies in the Coma Cluster (named for Coma Berenices), one of the densest clusters of galaxies in the known universe.

The longer you look at it, the smaller you’ll feel.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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iStock
Unwind With 10 Hours of Soothing Ocean Footage From BBC Earth
iStock
iStock

The internet can be a stressful place at times. Do yourself a favor by taking a break from the endless barrage of content to focus on the tranquil beauty of nature. The video below, spotted by Motherboard, features 10 hours of peaceful oceanscapes, courtesy of BBC Earth.

Unlike BBC's usual nature documentaries, which almost always include narration, this footage is completely human-free. There are no voices, no music, and no graphics. Instead, you'll find leisurely shots of whale sharks, schools of hammerheads, sailfish, and sea turtles drifting through the open ocean to a soundtrack of sloshing water.

Even if you don't have time to watch the whole 10 hours, just a few minutes of sitting in front of the meditative footage is probably enough to refresh your brain. Just don't be surprised if a few minutes quickly becomes an hour (or a few).

And if 10 hours of relaxing video still isn't enough for you, we recommend checking out some Norwegian slow TV. "Shows" include footage of a sea cruise, a train ride, and migrating reindeer.

[h/t Motherboard]

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