When one imagines worlds undiscovered and untouched by humanity, thoughts of far-flung planets many light-years beyond our own come to mind. However as any oceanographer or polar scientist will tell you, there are worlds filled with alien lifeforms a few thousand feet beyond our grasp. Beneath Russia’s Lake Vostok Station located in the central East Antarctic Ice Sheet lies a fresh water lake – the largest of Antarctica’s nearly 400 subglacial bodies of water – that has been isolated from the surrounding world for an estimated 15-25 million years. That is, until this week.
On 05 February 2012, a team of Russian scientists drilled the approximately 12,400 feet (3,768 m) to pierce the protective ice cover to recover samples of freshly frozen water that was drawn into the bore hole. The samples will be recovered later this year when the Antarctic summer will permit additional investigation. Scientists have theorized that the the lake will yield a bounty of information about an ecosystem that has been isolated for millions of years below over two miles of ice in an environment that could resemble the frozen ocean of Jupiter’s moon Europa. Scientifically speaking there is no reason to believe that unique and previously undiscovered life forms will not be found in the ice. Extremophiles – organisms that thrive in physically or geochemically extreme conditions that are detrimental to most life on earth – have been found in virtually every corner of the planet including in other polar areas.
In true science-fiction fashion, the station lost contact to the outside world for a few days prior to breaking through to the lake which conjured images of John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) or the 2011 remake by the same name. On a slightly more realistic note, there’s really no telling what kind of microbes could be discovered in the freezing depths of what has been called “the last great wilderness” on Earth.
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