The frozen desert serves as a scientific haven for more than 1,000 researchers around the year, who monitor climate change and study Earth’s history. Its barren landscape gives them access to an unspoilt world, where they can complete their research, despite temperatures dropping to as low as -90C. The conditions in parts of the region are so harsh that scientists rarely visit them, instead using satellite data to complete their work.
However, the Science Channel revealed in its ‘What on Earth?’ series how one image, sent back to the GeoEye-1 Earth observation satellite, left researchers stumped.
The series explained: “Analysis of the image measures the concentric ovals at 400-feet-wide.
“The image comes from one of the most remote, untouched regions on Earth, the vast frozen deserts of East Antarctica.”
University College London archaeologist Mark Altaweel detailed why the mysterious image puzzled him so much.
The satellite captured the bizarre snap
He said: “It’s the kind of thing that if you see it anywhere in the world, you immediately say ’that is definitely manmade’.
“We’re in the middle of the Antarctic, so what in the world is that doing there?”
Professor of physical geographer Jonathan Bamber explained why scientists rarely visit this area, before putting forward his initial theory on the markings.
He said: “It’s the coldest, driest, windiest place on Earth.
“It’s thousands of miles from any other civilisation.
“There are katabatic winds and they can form these features called sastrugi – the equivalent of dunes over snow.”
However, the narrator went on to rule this theory out.
He said: “They are sharp wave-like ridges in the snow surface that run parallel to the direction of the wind.
“They can form highly unusual shapes, but rarely what is visible in the image.
“But there’s another force of nature caused by ice melt in Antarctica.”
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Prof Bamber then came up with his best explanation for what possibly happened in the icy continent.
He added in 2017: “I would say the dark patches are surface melt that tends to pond and form what are called supraglacial lakes.
“If that pong drains out it will leave a void under the ice which can collapse.
“The structure you see here, you can almost imagine a pond that has collapsed inwards and created these cracks as the ice collapses in.”
However, the scientists could not reach an agreement during the show as to what the anomaly was due to the ice being so thick in the region.
Instead, they proposed to go there in the future to study how it was possibly made and determine whether it was made naturally.
At the time of its launch, GeoEye-1 was the world’s highest-resolution commercial Earth-imaging satellite, owned by DigitalGlobe.
Google, which had its logo on the side of the rocket, has exclusive online mapping use of its data.
While GeoEye-1 is capable of imagery with details the size of 41cm per pixel, that resolution is only available to the US government.
Google has access to details of 50cm per pixel.