Lake Vostok Under Antarctica Reached by Russian Scientists

Russian scientists have penetrated Lake Vostok, a large lake lying under the Antarctic ice sheet, it was announced this week.

Russia annouced on Monday that it had reached a great scientific frontier, when a team of experts finally managed to drill through miles of Antarctic ice to reach the lake -- a feat that took them over two decades.

Scientists have compared the mission carried out by the St. Petersburg-based Antarctic Research Institute (AARI) to sending a man on the moon.

Lake Vostok is believed to contain water sealed frozen for more than 15 million years and is roughly the size of the Lake of Ontario. Lake Vostok is the world's third largest lake by volume and is the largest lake under the surface of Antarctica.

"There is no other place on Earth that has been in isolation for more than 20 million years. It's a meeting with the unknown," Lev Savatyugin from the AARI told The Associated Press.

Scientists hope that the discovery will enable them to extend their research into microscopic life forms that existed during the Ice Ages and believe that the research will be significant in advancing scientific knowledge of the beginnings of life on earth, as well as yield discoveries of previously known life.

"Every place we've looked on Earth, we've come up with life. So it would be kid of surprising if we didn't find life there," Columbia University geophysicist Robin Bell told CNN.

The lake was buried under a thick sheet of ice and the Russian scientists drilled through 2.3 miles of ice to reach the untouched water. During the drilling some experts expressed concerns that materials used to break through the ice could damage the lake, which hasn't been exposed to wind in over 20 million years.

Samples of the freshly frozen water from the lake are expected to be collected towards the end of 2012.