Work starts to study ancient Antarctic lake

Last updated at 06:55
Lake Ellsworth

British scientists in Antarctica have started a long-awaited project to look for life in an ancient lake.

The team of 12 scientists and engineers will drill through an ice sheet more than two miles thick to reach the hidden lake.

They hope to analyse water that's been left untouched for up to 500,000 years.

It's hoped the investigation will help scientists understand the limits of where life is possible.

Preparations for drilling

Using a high pressure hose, the team will use boiling water to blast a hole through the ice.

They will then take samples of the lake's water through the hole.

The lake is located in a part of Antarctica famous for its low temperatures and blasting winds, so spending time there is a tough challenge for the scientists.

Despite being trapped under so much ice and without any sunlight, scientists reckon they'll find tiny microbes in the water.

Life on other worlds

Scientists know that Europa, one of Jupiter's moons has an icy crust and an ocean beneath it.

The project's chief scientist, Professor Martin Siegert of Bristol University, said that exploring for life in such an extreme environment could open up the possibilities for life on other worlds like planet Jupiter's moon Europa.

"The experiment we're doing is very similar to an experiment one might do to see whether there is life on Europa.

"If there's life on Europa it'll be living in a very similar way to life in Lake Ellsworth with total darkness and lots of pressure."

If all goes according to plan in Antarctica, the project's first results should be announced next week.