“It’s like exploring an alien planet where no one has been before.”

Today is the last planned day of drilling this season for the Russian team attempting to reach Lake Vostok – the largest sub-glacial freshwater lake on Earth.

The project to drill down to the lake, which covers 16 square kilometres and has been sealed under approximately 3,750m of ice in the Antarctic for around 15 million years, began over 20 years ago.

Earlier this year reports suggested they would be short by 20-30 metres, but since then there have been reports that they are now only 5 metres away.

In any event they will return in December, at the start of the next short Antarctic summer, to complete their work.  That will be to either finish drilling, or to recover a frozen sample of water from the lake.  From the Reuters report

Scientists are hoping the lake will reveal new forms of life and show how life evolved may have evolved in the times before the ice age. The lake could also offer scientists a glimpse of what conditions exist for life in similar extremes on Mars and Jupiter’s moon Europa.

“It’s like exploring an alien planet where no one has been before. We don’t know what we’ll find,” Valery Lukin of Russia’s Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute (AARI) in St Petersburg, which oversees the expedition, told Reuters.

The discovery of the hidden network of sub-glacial lakes of Antarctica in the 1990s has sparked much enthusiasm among scientists the world over.

Explorers from the US and Britain are following the trail of Russia’s scientists with their own missions to probe other buried lakes, which are among the last of the world’s hidden and unexplored areas.

“It’s an extreme environment but it is one that may be habitable. If it is, curiosity drives us to understand what’s in it. How is it living? Is it flourishing?,” Martin Siegert, head of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Geosciences, who is leading a British expedition to a smaller polar lake, told Reuters reporter Alissa de Carbonnel.

As the Professor says

Admit it, it sounds just like a thousand horror-movie setups.


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