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NASA's mini-submarine can dive into the lakes below Antarctica's glaciers

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subglacial lake
subglacial lake

A miniature submarine deployed by NASA researchers has made first contact with the lakes hidden beneath Antarctica's glaciers. The submarine, which is about the size of a baseball bat and can travel as deep as three-quarters of a mile, was developed by University of Arizona students and can report real-time data through a fiber-optic cable, including high definition video and measurements of salinity, depth, and temperature. Researchers deployed the submarine into Lake Whillans, which sits 2,000 feet below sea level and was accessed by drilling through 800 meters of ice.

The device was part of the research team's efforts that led to the discovery of the first signs of life beneath Antarctica's surface. "It's able to take us places that are inaccessible by any other instruments in existence," said Alberto Behar, who supervised the development of the device. A video released by the team displays the first imagery from a subglacial lake and shows what the instrument viewed as it traveled through the borehole used to access Lake Willhans.

The 20-square-mile lake is nearly as big as the island of Manhattan, and it took the researches three days to drill the hole to reach it. No sunlight makes it into Lake Willhans, and it sits slightly below freezing at 31 degrees Fahrenheit. Though the team has already made a major discovery in finding living bacteria within the lake, it's just the first application of the submarine — the device only first reached the lake on January 28.