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Russian Team Drilling Toward 20-Million-Year-Old Antarctic Lake Reportedly Reaches Goal

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Last week, we reported that radio contact had been lost between U.S. colleagues and the Russian team drilling toward a 20-million-year-old lake buried under Antarctic ice. Time was running out for the team to reach the sub-glacial Lake Vostok before they had to leave due to weather conditions.

It has been reported that the team reached the lake on Sunday and lack of radio communication was attributed to them working around the clock to meet their deadline. Wired reports that teams have been trying to reach Lake Vostok for the past 20 years. Just last year, a team missed its goal because the conditions conducive for drilling on the continent fall within a very short time-frame.

But, Ria Novosti, a Russian news agency, reports that the surface of the lake has been reached at 3,768 meters. The agency doesn't name the source of this information, simply calling it a "scientific source."

According to Gizmodo, the kerosene that was keeping the hole open during drilling -- the hole was kept small and would have frozen back together during the process without it -- will be taken out and the water from the pristine lake will rise up into the hole. The water will freeze there and will be extracted by researchers next season. This method of removing samples of the lake's water was employed to avoid contamination from equipment.

The Daily Mail reports that Professor John Priscu from Montana State University, who said last week that they hadn't had contact with the drill team in several days, clarified stating that the team was most likely just working:

He said: "I can assure you that they are not lost or out of contact. I never said the Russians were lost."

The scientific community is particularly interested in reviewing samples from the lake to learn more about earlier life on Earth and because some extreme conditions found here could be compared to areas in space like Jupiter's moon, Europa. Wired reports that the oxygen levels of this lake are 50 times more than those on Earth's surface and any life found in the lake would be considered an extremophile, being able to survive in "high pressure, constant cold, low-nutrient input, high oxygen concentration and an absence of sunlight."

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