One step closer to searching for extra-terrestrial microorganisms

“An American attempt to bore down into Lake Whillans, a body of water buried almost 1km under the Antarctic ice, has achieved its aim.  Scientists reported on Sunday that sensors on their drill system had noted a change in pressure, indicating contact had been made with the lake. A camera was then sent down to verify the breakthrough. The Whillans project is one of a number of such ventures trying to investigate Antarctica’s buried lakes,” BBC science correspondent Jonathan Amos wrote on the news outlet’s website yesterday. Amos continued, “…The intention, now that the hole is secure, is to lower various sampling tools and sensors into the lake to study its properties and environment. Some of the samples will be assessed onsite at the ice surface in temporary labs, and others will be returned to partner universities for more extensive analysis… …These under-ice environments may also provide fascinating insights into the potential habitability of some moons in the Solar System. Europa, a satellite of Jupiter, and Enceladus, which orbits Saturn, both have large volumes of liquid water buried beneath their icy crusts.  Astrobiologists think such moons are promising places to go look for extra-terrestrial microorganisms. Dr David Pearce from the UK’s Ellsworth team described the Whillans breakthrough as ‘exciting’. ‘I always viewed the projects as very complementary,’ the British Antarctic Survey researcher told BBC News. ‘The Ellsworth project was very much in the Trans-Antarctic Mountains, at the highest point. Vostok was on the plateau region in the central East Antarctic, and the Whillans project was towards the coast in a delta region; and between the three projects, they would have given us a really good understanding of what’s happening under the ice,’ he explained.” Read the full article here. | Raymond Matt, CFP, CLU, TEP, CHS

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