After drilling into Lake Vostok for over two decades, Russian scientists have confirmed that they reached the mysterious freshwater lake that was sealed beneath over two miles of Antarctic ice.
Although reports on Lake Vostok came in Monday, the feat was not confirmed for two days. The Associated Press wrote Wednesday morning that according to a statement by Russia's Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute, its team reached Lake Vostok on Sunday.
Russian news source RT reports that the scientists were able to retrieve 40 liters of water from Lake Vostok which they are taking home in sterile containers to test.
Lake Vostok, which hasn't been touched by light in millions of years, has been a target of scientific exploration because of the unique lifeforms it may contain.
AP writes, "The discovery has been avidly anticipated by scientists around the world, who hope that the lake, comparable in area to Lake Ontario, may contain microbial life and provide a clue in the search for life on other planets in similar conditions."
According to Wired, Lake Vostok likely contains 50 times the amount of oxygen found in a typical freshwater lake. The conditions in the lake "are thought to be similar" to Jupiter's moon Europa and Saturn's Enceladus.
Despite the excitement surrounding the Russians' accomplishment, the project was not without environmental fears. The Washington Post explained that concerns exist that Lake Vostok "could be contaminated by the kerosene, Freon and other materials being used in the drilling."
AP reports, "Russian researchers have argued that the water from the lake would rush up the borehole driven by a jump in pressure, safely sealing pollutants."
Russia's RT writes that drilling liquids did not enter Lake Vostok. They explained, "The lake water, rising up to 40 meters due to under-pressure in the crack, pushed the drilling liquid back onto the surface."
Even with the concerns, the Russians' accomplishment at Lake Vostok has excited the scientific community. John Priscu, an Antarctic specialist at Montana State University, told The Washington Post, "If they were successful, their efforts will transform the way we do science in Antarctica and provide us with an entirely new view of what exists under the vast Antarctic ice sheet."
The Russian operation is also significant because of the surface conditions which the scientists endured. The area above Lake Vostok is one of the most inhospitable places on Earth. The lowest ever temperature on Earth, negative 128 degrees Fahrenheit (-82 C) was recorded there in 1983, according to the BBC.
In comparison, the temperature outside a commercial jetliner at a cruising altitude of around 35,000 feet is only about negative 69 degrees Fahrenheit.