Russian scientists have breached the Antarctic ice sheet that has sealed off Lake Vostok for 20 million years. Credit: Zina Deretsky /NSF
It has been five days since anyone has communicated with Russian scientists, who are in a remote Antarctic 'station,' where they are drilling through 13,000 feet of an ice sheet to reach the prehistoric Lake Vostok. Now the scientific community is anxiously waiting to hear what's become of them.
Temps are dropping below -40 Celsius and they have only a week or so left before they have to winterize the station, said John Priscu, an Antarctic research expert at Montana State University, in an interview with Fox News. I can only imagine what things must be like at Vostok Station this week.
The scientists are presumed to be on the surface of the ice sheet near the Vostok Station, where they were expected to conclude two decades of efforts to drill through to what has been deemed the most alien lake on Earth, sealed off from the planet's atmosphere for 20 million years. Geothermal vents are theorized to sustain life beneath the lake, from primordial microbes to monstrous tube worms.
To prevent contamination of the lake, they have attempted to drill only deep enough to let frozen slush on its surface flow up through the borehole, but it is possible that pressurized gas could escape explosively, raising concerns about the scientists' safety.
If it goes well, a breakthrough opens up a whole new chapter in our understanding of our planet and possibly moons in our solar system and planets far beyond, Priscu told the Washington Post. If it doesn't go well, it casts a pall over the whole effort to explore this wet underside of Antarctica.