Scientists have found a lake. In Antarctica. Here's why that's weird and exciting.

Scientists have found something mysterious buried underneath the Antarctic ice.

I know this is how a lot of horror movies tend to start, but don't panic. British scientists were investigating a part of Antarctica known as Princess Elizabeth Land.


Princess Elizabeth II stands at the right in this picture from 1933, two years after the land was named after her. You probably know her better as Queen Elizabeth II, the current British monarch. Image from AFP/Getty Images.

Anyway, scientists found what they think is an immense canyon system below Antarctica. And, buried deep within it, a subglacial lake.

This pond is located under a glacier in Norway. Now imagine this much darker, deeper, and nearly 90 miles long. Image from Guttorm Flatabø/Flickr.

The scientists are inferring the lake's presence from subtle patterns they've observed in the ice. To confirm whether or not the lake exists, another team of American and Chinese scientists have flown a plane mounted with ice-penetrating radar over the area to get recordings. They're going to meet up in May to share the data.

If the recordings confirm it exists, the lake will be part of an immense 680-mile canyon system buried under the ice. Current measurements put the lake at about 87 miles long and 12 miles wide.

This isn't the first lake scientists have found trapped under the ice.

Another lake, Lake Vostok, is even larger than this new potential lake, measuring in at a whopping 160 by 30 miles and covered in nearly 13,000 feet of ice. There are other lakes too, including Lake Whillans and Lake Ellsworth.


An artist's diagram of drilling to Lake Vostok. Image from U.S. National Science Foundation/WIkimedia Commons.

Scientists are excited about these undiscovered lakes because they have the potential to be full of weird, isolated creatures.

A student tests the type of submersible used to explore subglacial Lake Whillans. Image from NASA/JPL-Caltech.

In 2013 an American team drilled over 700 meters into Lake Whillans, another Antarctic lake. They found thousands of different types of microbes living in the brutal, cold darkness.

These are organisms that might have not had any contact with the outside world since they were covered in ice over 15 million years ago.

The first glimpse of Lake Whillans' bottom. Image from NASA/JPL-Caltech/Wikimedia Commons.

If scientists were able to find that much life that by drilling down into other lakes, it's definitely possible that more strange, unseen critters could be living in this newly discovered lake as well.

By studying these mysterious, icy denizens, scientists can learn about how life evolves in isolation and how creatures deal with extreme cold and dark. What do these microbes they eat, for example? How did they get trapped? Do all Antarctic lakes contain life? If not, what makes the ones that do so special?

These lakes can help us understand how life works on Earth but also hint at what kinds of life we might find out in space.

Will the oceans of Europa look like Lake Whillans? Image from NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute/Wikimedia Commons.

Antarctica has been home to conspiracies, alien stories, and fictional lost worlds for as long as we've known about it. But it turns out that the real-life continent is just as mysterious as any movie.

Getting to know how life survives in such harsh conditions here on Earth will better prepare us to identify and interact with life on other planets.

It’ll take us a while yet before we come close to encountering creatures on other planets, but it’s cool to remember that there are still places here on Earth we have yet to discover.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less