Buried under a sheet of ice 2.5 miles thick, Lake Vostok is the world’s seventh-largest freshwater lake and the largest of more than 300 lakes trapped beneath the Antarctic ice sheet. Its water may have been isolated for more than 15 million years. Although he’s written research papers about the lake, McKay has never been there. No human has, but human technology — in the form of a drill operated by Russian scientists — reached Vostok in 2012.
Scientists analyzing samples of the lake’s waters have not yet released conclusive findings about possible microbial life, but discovering an ecosystem in Vostok would hearten McKay, who wonders whether a subsurface ocean of Jupiter’s moon Europa, which is covered with about six miles of ice, might similarly harbor life.
NASA/National Snow & Ice Data Center; NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/University of Colorado