Special News ReportGLACIOLOGY

Russian Outpost Readies for Otherworldly Quest

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Science  30 Jan 1998:
Vol. 279, Issue 5351, pp. 658-661
DOI: 10.1126/science.279.5351.658

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VOSTOK STATION-- From Russia's Vostok station--the coldest inhabited spot on the planet--researchers have extracted a frozen record extending further back in time than any other ice core. But next month, drilling will stop after reaching a depth of about 3700 meters, leaving Vostok station without a clear mission and with an uncertain future. It may be shut down for lack of funds, marking the end of Russia's continuous 40-year presence in the harsh antarctic interior--a tenure rivaled only by the U.S. base at the South Pole. But researchers are eyeing a new project to take its place: exploration of the giant lake that now lies just beneath the drill bit. Isolated from the rest of the world for hundreds of thousands of years, Lake Vostok may contain exotic organisms adapted to its utter darkness. And because the lake resembles an ice-covered ocean thought to exist on Europa, one of Jupiter's moons, NASA is interested in joining the action. It is sponsoring an effort to design a probe that would penetrate Lake Vostok without contaminating it--an effort that would serve as a prelude to a mission to see if Europa harbors life. Researchers will meet in St. Petersburg, Russia, in March to plot strategy.