The secret lake at the bottom of the world

There was an interesting story - interesting to me anyway - in The New York Times today about a discovery recently made by Russian scientists drilling on Antarctica.

It seems that these scientists stationed at the Vostok Research Station have been drilling through the ice there for a decade. They sent their drill cutting through two miles of solid ice and, finally, at a depth of 12,366 feet, they hit water. It is water from a pristine freshwater lake the size of Lake Ontario which has never before been touched by humans or their equipment. The water in the lake has been sealed off from water and air for somewhere between 15 and 34 million years. This is one of more than 280 lakes that are known to exist deep under the miles-thick ice of the frozen continent.

So why do scientists want to drill to this sealed lake? Well, because it's there, of course, but, also, there are theories that ancient unknown life forms may exist there. If such life forms could be found, it would lend credence to the possibility of finding life on some of the frozen bodies in space, on one of the moons of Jupiter, for example.

The Russians have named their newly discovered lake Vostok, after their research station. The research station itself is in the middle of the East Antarctic ice sheet about 800 miles from the South Pole. It holds the distinction of having recorded the coldest temperature ever documented on Earth. That was minus 128.6 degrees in July 1983. Makes me cold just to think of it.

One has to admire the dedication of such scientists who work under incredibly difficult conditions to add to the sum of human knowledge. It's certainly something that I could never do, but somehow it makes to happy just to know that there are people who can and will do it for the thrill of discovering something new - or something very old - in the world.


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