MOSCOW – It's a drink fit for a king -- T.rex, the king of dinosaurs, that is.
Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin on Friday received the first sample of water from an underground lake in Antarctica that was hidden for an estimated 20 million years -- and joked that the water would be the perfect drink for a dinosaur.
"Well, did you drink the water?" Putin asked Russia's Natural Resources Minister Yuri Trutnev after being presented with a vial of ancient aqua, Reuters reported.
Trutnev, who was in Antarctica for the historic moment the lake was breached, assured Putin that he had not drank a drop of the water, which scientists have been waiting to study with bated breath.
"Well it would have been interesting you know: dinosaurs drank it," Putin reportedly said with a smile.
Putin's calendar is a bit off; a mass extinction likely caused by an asteroid impact ended the reign of the dinosaurs about 65 million years ago, scientists believe. But the lake is nonetheless crucial to scientific understanding of life on Earth. Scientists hope Lake Vostok could reveal new forms of life and help them understand the extreme conditions of Mars and Europa, Jupiter's moon, which researchers suspect could be hiding a liquid ocean beneath its frozen upper crust.
A Russian team successfully drilled down to Lake Vostok on Sunday, after a desperate battle against the clock before the brutal Antarctic winter set in.
The water was in a glass container and appeared yellowish in color. It carried a note that read, "Lake Vostok, more than million years old, depth 3,769.3 meters (12,365 feet), 5.12.11, Antarctic."
The Russian team had not been heard from for more than a week before the breakthrough was announced, raising fears for its safety. Temperatures were dropping below minus 40 degrees Celsius (minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit), and the clock was ticking before the onset of the Antarctic winter, when the temperature would get twice as cold.
Vostok Station boasts the lowest recorded temperature on Earth: minus 89.4 degrees Celsius (minus 129 degrees Fahrenheit).
The Lake Vostok project has been years in the making, with initial drilling at the massive lake starting in 1998. The scientists were quickly able to reach 11,800 feet (3,600 meters) but had to stop due to concerns of possible contamination of the never-before-touched lake water.
Scientists from around the world are racing to explore the mysteries of Antarctica, and there are two similar digs underway. A team from the British Antarctic Survey is on a competing mission set to plumb the depths of Lake Ellsworth, one of a string of more than 370 lakes beneath Antarctica that may soon see light for the first time. And a third Antarctic expedition -- a study of the subglacial Whillans Ice Stream -- mainly features U.S. scientists.
Newscore contributed to this report.