After two decades of drilling through miles of Antarctic ice, Russian scientists are about to breach an underground lake that has not been exposed to the surface in more than 20 million years. Lake Vostok, as the body of water is called, is part of a chain of more than 200 lakes hidden beneath the ice, some of which were formed when Australia and Antarctica were still connected. Vostok will be the first one of all to be opened when the drill hits water next week.
Some researchers believe that there may be life in the lake, as ice removed from the Vostok borehole has been found to contain bacteria. And since the subterranean lakes, kept liquid by heat from the Earth’s core, are similar to those found on moons Enceladus and Europa, scientists are excited to see what such inhabitants might be like. But the Russian team’s somewhat sloppy drilling methods have got a number of people worried about preserving the pristine lake from contamination.