Antarctica, one of Earth’s final frontiers. Scientists looking for life beneath its gigantic ice caps have been plagued with problems for decades, receiving only the coldest shoulder imaginable. Antarctica thwarted British researchers trying to dig down to Lake Ellsworth. Russian scientists drilled through to Lake Vostok, but their own equipment falsified their results. Finally, the American team WISSARD (Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling) reached Lake Whillans two weeks ago, and what they’ve found will astound you.
Nature reports that tests have definitely proven that life exists beneath Antarctica. The research team was led by Montana State University glaciologist John Priscu, who says, “It appears that there lies a large wetland ecosystem under Antarctica’s ice sheet, with an active microbiology.” Not only is this remarkable news that will undoubtedly lead to interesting genetic developments on our own planet, but it could lead to an all-new understanding of how moons like Jupiter’s Europa, as well as exoplanets around the universe, could possibly harbor life under such extreme conditions.
After hot-water drilling through 800 meters of ice — which will hopefully someday inspire the most amazing waterslide ever invented — the team finally broke through the surface and discovered that Lake Whillans is not 10-25 meters deep like the initial surveys told them, but only two meters deep. The lake itself stretches around 60 square kilometers, and Priscu has not ruled out the possibility of the lake having deeper spots in other areas.
A camera was sent to the bottom to make sure their sampling equipment could do what it needed to do, and the team took the next few days to collect around 30 liters of liquid lake water, and eight 60cm-long sediment cores from the bottom of the lake. If one of those sediment cores ends up being a bloody hockey mask, I’ll no longer be interested in Antarctica.
Using just the on-site mircroscope available to them, Priscu and his team knew they had struck gold — or rather, struck microbes. One single milliliter of the water contained about 1,000 bacteria, which averages out to about 1/10 of the microbes found in our oceans. And apparently, the bacteria show a “really good growth rate” in Petri dishes.
Now, of course, comes all the DNA testing, to learn exactly what is making these things tick, since they’re obviously living without sunlight, something we mere Earthlings can’t do. The microbes also don’t spend all day on the Internet, reading about themselves. The results should take about a month to surface, as it were. So before that happens, find someone you know who hasn’t ever seen John Carpenter’s The Thing, and make them watch it, but tell them to keep their dog outside.