The Search for Life Trapped Under Antarctica's Ice

Antarctica's subglacial lakes, Vostok and Whillans, reveal what life might be like in icy worlds.

In January, climatologist Vladimir Lipenkov laid a disk of ice onto a light box in an Antarctic lab. The ice sparkled in a kaleidoscope of reds, blues and yellows as light scattered through trapped gas bubbles. 

His Russian scientific team had finally accomplished its elusive goal: retrieving the purest sample yet from Lake Vostok, an Antarctic body of water that has likely been locked beneath thousands of feet of ice for up to 15 million years. They are now testing that frozen water — which comes from a place Lipenkov says is unlike “any other environment on our planet” — for signs of life.


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