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Right out of Science Fiction: Russians drill 2 miles to discover world's purist ice

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
January 16th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Russian scientists are excited about the prospects of discovering life at the bottom of an Antarctic lake sealed below more than two miles of ice. Researchers have finally brought up a core sample from Lake Vostok, the world's largest underground, frozen lakes. Lake Vostok offers the chance to look for like in an environment unlike anywhere else on Earth.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Russia's Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute has announced that its research team in Antarctica has brought up a 2 meter core sample taken from the ice of Lake Vostok buried below nearly two-and-a-half miles of ice. The lake is one of the largest freshwater lakes on Earth, comparable to Lake Ontario, but is entirely frozen.

Lake Vostok has been isolated from everything else on the planet for some 15 to 25 million years.

Scientists are hoping to find signs of microbial life in the ice core which would likely be unique. That the lake at one time contained life is likely, since 15 million years ago, the lake would have been exposed at the surface. At one time, Antarctica was actually a flourishing continent, covered with forests.

Since the past 15 million years or more, Antarctica has slid to the bottom of the Earth because of continental drift and remains frozen.

Although the core will be transported to St. Petersburg for detailed analysis, initial results are disappointing. The only microbes the team has found yet are those introduced by contamination from the drilling equipment. Nothing native appears to be locked in the first core sample.

Despite the poor initial result, the ice itself is also worth study because it is exceptionally pure, and largely  uncontaminated. In fact, researchers told Russian media, "This ice may have very specific physical properties that are different from ordinary ice and anything ever known before."

The research also has implications for the search for life elsewhere in the universe. Lake Vostok is an extreme environment, frozen and sealed off from the sun. However, if life can survive or evolve down there after millions of years, then it raises hope that life could exists in other similar places, such as in the ice seas of Jupiter's moon Europa.

Despite the poor initial findings, scientists are waiting for the detailed examination of the core which will take place this spring. Until then they hope to continue working, to see if other samples will reveal the secrets of Lake Vostok, assuming it still has any.

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