Alien Altar? NASA Spots a Perfectly Rectangular Antarctic Iceberg

Monday, 22 October 2018 - 1:26PM
Earth
NASA
Monday, 22 October 2018 - 1:26PM
Alien Altar? NASA Spots a Perfectly Rectangular Antarctic Iceberg
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NASA
There's something about the perfect right angles of rectangles that evokes human-ness. Our rooms, our phone screens, and even our beds are rectangular. In fact, when H.P. Lovecraft sat down and tried to think of the most primal, viscerally uncomfortable thing to include in his mythology of cosmic horror, he chose non-Euclidean geometry, the farthest thing from our familiar 90-degree angles. Now, however, something weird has happened: NASA has taken a photo of what appears to be a perfectly flat, rectangular iceberg floating off the coast of the Antarctic.

Most people think of icebergs as jagged, frozen mountains with only a fraction of their bulk sitting above the surface of the water, but it turns out that there's actually two kinds of icebergs: tabular and non-tabular. The iceberg NASA photographed is tabular, which means its basically table-shape: flat on the top and vertical at the edges. Not all of them are rectangular—some have jagged borders like a puzzle piece, but most of their sides are sheer and smooth (at least at first). Tabular icebergs form when they split off from ice shelves, and sometimes the cracks that divide them from their parent ice form in geometric patterns, including straight lines. You can see similarly eerie, geometric precision in a geological phenomenon called 'columnar jointing,' which creates near-perfect hexagon shapes in certain types of rock.

Most icebergs live only three to six years, but if they stay in cold waters and don't collide with other icebergs (or land), they can survive for 50 or more years. This iceberg is probably very new, since its sides are still smooth and almost perfectly vertical. As time goes on, natural forces will start to sculpt those sides into something less uniform. Still, while it's here, we might as well bathe in the strange glory of its right angles.
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