Looks like there is more secrets in the Antarctic ice then just the history of Earth. A Russian team hit 12,365 feet deep of ice last week to find a buried ancient fresh water lake and with it tons of secret, but it might have a surprise as well.
Seeing parallels between Antarctica’s subterranean Lake Vostok and suspected oceans beneath the ice-crusted moons of Jupiter and Saturn, scientists searching for life beyond Earth are eagerly following the Russian project.
They don’t expect water samples from Lake Vostok will hold alien life, though any life it contains may have taken a slightly different evolutionary path than what appears on the planet today. That’s because Lake Vostok, the deepest and most isolated of Antarctica’s subglacial lakes, has been cut off from the atmosphere for at least 14 million years.
The lakes, which were discovered via satellite imagery in the late 1990s, owe their existence to the thick Antarctic ice, which acts like a blanket to trap heat coming from inside Earth, keeping water liquid.
“If they find evidence of life there — and I do think Lake Vostok has life in it — it’s going to be Earth-like,” astrobiologist Dale Andersen, with the SETI Institute’s Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe, told Discovery News.
Scientists suspect Lake Vostok’s water is about 1 million years old and is supersaturated with oxygen and other gases, a difficult place for life to exist. Some life that might be there are bacteria and single-celled microorganisms called archea.
Lake Vostok may offer lessons on how life spreads and how to find habitable environments. The project also should help scientists and engineers designing equipment to look for life beyond Earth and processes to make sure anything found is not the result of contamination.
Whatever secrets Lake Vostok holds are safe for at least another year. Russia won’t be able to retrieve its water sample until the next Antarctic summer. By that time, teams of British and American scientists may have had time to retrieve and analyze samples from two other shallower sub-glacial lakes.