NASA / JPL-Caltech
The submarine used to explore Lake Whillans at a test before the Antarctic trip.
By Becky Oskin
A shiny red submarine that could double for a Louisville Slugger played a critical role in confirming that life abounds in a chilly Antarctic lake, NASA said Friday.
The robotic sub, about the size and shape of a baseball bat, was dropped down a 2,625-foot (800 meters) borehole into subglacial Lake Whillans in January. Tethered to the surface with a fiber-optic cable, the micro-submarine showed the world its first images of a buried Antarctic lake. [Watch the sub explore Lake Whillans]
"Everyone was incredibly excited to see the first images," Alberto Behar, a researcher at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said in the video. Behar led the instrument's design team, which consisted mainly of students from Arizona State University.
The sub sent back video, salinity, temperature and depth data to researchers camped on the ice surface. The video confirmed it was safe to send down more instruments to measure the lake's properties, and to collect water and soil samples, NASA said in a statement.
The search paid off: Water retrieved from subglacial Lake Whillans already shows signs of microbial life. Researchers returned to the United States with 8 gallons (30 liters) of lake water and eight sediment cores from the lake bottom. These samples will be tested for signs of microbial life, which could shed light on extreme life that thrives in harsh environments.
NASA / JPL-Caltech
A mini-submarine built mainly by students gave the world this picture, the first look at the bottom of a buried Antarctic lake.
The drilling operation, called the WISSARD project (Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling), began on Jan. 21 and broke through the ice on Jan. 28.
- Antarctic Album: Drilling Into Subglacial Lake Whillans
- Antarctica: 100 Years of Exploration (Infographic)
- Extreme Antarctica: Amazing Photos of Lake Ellsworth
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