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December 4 2012

Search for life in the planet's most extreme environment

A British team has arrived in Antarctica to begin a search for life in a lake that has lain buried under nearly 10,000ft of ice for up to a half a million years.

Scientists from the British Antarctic Survey are preparing to bore down to the subglacial Lake Ellsworth, deep beneath the West Antarctic ice sheet, to collect samples of water and sediment.

Toiling under the midnight sun, they will endure temperatures well below freezing in a quest to discover whether life can survive in one of the harshest environments on Earth.

Should they find any organisms living in the icy depths, it could offer tantalising clues as to how life might look if it exists elsewhere in the solar system, such as in the ice-covered oceans of Jupiter's moon Europa.

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