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Big dig: Scientists reach prehistoric lake

NEED TO KNOW
  • Antarctica lake has been untouched since before Ice Age
  • Russia's Putin receives first water sample from prehistoric lake
  • May provide clues on other life in our solar system
Big dig: Scientists reach prehistoric lake

The final frontier wasn't space after all. Turns out it was right on earth all along. And right under beneath our feet.

So long as you're standing in Antarctica.

That's where a team of Russian researchers capped a decades-long effort by successfully drilling through two miles of solid ice to reach Lake Vostok, a subglacial body of water the size of Lake Ontario --  which has been untouched by air or light for at least 14 million years.

The speculation about what type of life may exist down in this preserved snapshot of the earth before the Ice Age has the scientific community in a frenzy, though they'll have to wait until the end of Antarctica's winter to really begin extracting and evaluating samples.

One of the very first samples was presented Friday to Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin, who showed it off on national television.

There's some debate about whether any type of organism could survive in the freezing, dark, isolated conditions. But if even simple, one-cell lifeforms are found, it would propel hope that life may also exist on Jupiter's icy moon Europa and other frozen spots in our solar system.

More amazing discoveries: 'Lost world' found in Antarctica!

The team conducting the drilling expedition fought not only the unforgiving ice, but the weather as well. Their station at Lake Vostok is considered the coldest place on the planet. In fact, it was the location of the coldest temperature ever recorded, when it reached minus-128 degrees Fahrenheit there in 1983. The base is also at 11,000 feet above sea level, meaning oxygen is at a premium. So nevermind the subglacial species, how did humans survive in this place?

And another question: How does the lake remain liquid when everything above it is frozen solid? The answer lies under the lake, where the earth's core provides enough heat to prevent it from freezing.

While the breakthrough has been a major achievement and source of national pride for Russia, the celebration may be short-lived. Already American and British teams are preparing to drill for other buried lakes, of which there are believed to be about 200. Lake Vostok, though, is the largest of all of them.

Now we just have to wait a few months to find out what secrets about our planet and life as we know it it's kept frozen for the last 14 million years...

 

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