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Lake Vida

What’s interesting about a lake that’s covered with sixty feet of ice, and whose top layer only melts for a few weeks a year? Well, if we’re talking about an Antarctic lake, like Lake Vida, and you’re a scientist, the answer is plenty. In those few weeks, the microorganisms in the melted ice that are normally in suspended animation revive and multiply before they freeze again. This means that the ice cover contains microorganisms that date back thousands of years; recently scientists found microorganisms that froze way back when Rome was founded.

But what really has got scientists talking is the recent discovery that beneath all that ice, Lake Vida is still liquid. The water is so salty that it doesn’t freeze. In fact, as the ice cover grows thicker the salty water beneath becomes even more concentrated and able to stay liquid at even colder temperatures.

The big question, then, is whether anything actually lives in such a cold, dark, stressful environment. Well, scientists are planning to drill and find out. Getting to what’s at the bottom of Lake Vida may help answer many questions. First, it may explain how life on Earth survived when it was entirely covered with glaciers. Also, the hostile environment might be similar to the one on Mars several billion years ago, as the air thinned and temperatures dropped. Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, also has a liquid ocean under a surface of ice. If Lake Vida contains life, then these places might be harboring extraterrestrial microbial life as well. And what could be more interesting than that?

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