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Antarctica's underground lake could hold clues for life on other planets

London, Thu, 09 Feb 2012 ANI

London, Feb 9 (ANI): After more than two decades of drilling, Russian scientists have reached the pristine surface of a gigantic freshwater lake - Lake Vostok in Antarctica - which they believe could hold life from the distant past, or clues to the search for life on other planets.


Scientists have described reaching the lake, which has lain, silent and unseen, buried under miles of ice for 20 million years, as "a meeting with the unknown," the Telegraph reported.


"In the simplest sense, it can transform the way we think about life," NASA's chief scientist Waleed Abdalati told a news agency by email.


As such, researchers have been wildly anticipating the break-through for are hopes it will allow a glimpse into microbial life forms that existed before the Ice Age, or precious evidence of what conditions must be like on the ice-crust moons of Jupiter and Saturn, or under Mars' polar ice caps - and whether life could survive there.


Valery Lukin, the head of Russia's Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute (AARI) in charge of the mission, said that his team reached the lake's surface Sunday.


"There is no other place on Earth that has been in isolation for more than 20 million years. It's a meeting with the unknown," Lev Savatyugin, a researcher with the AARI who was involved in preparing the mission, told the news agency.


Savatyugin said that scientists hope to find primeval bacteria that could expand the human knowledge of the origins of life.


"We need to see what we have here before we send missions to ice-crust moons, like Jupiter's moon Europa," he said.


They believe that microbial life may exist in the dark depths of the lake despite high pressure and constant cold - conditions similar to those expected to be found under ice crust on Mars, Jupiter's moon Europa and Saturn's move Enceladus. (ANI)


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