Raiders of the lost lake
Within weeks, Russian researchers hope to finish drilling through Antarctica’s ice sheet to reach Lake Vostok, a huge freshwater lake roughly 3,750 metres beneath the surface. It’s a race against time: 10–50 metres of ice separate the team from its goal, which it must reach before the last aircraft of the season leaves in February. There’ll be more drilling research in April, when Japan’s Chikyu ship sets sail to bore into the underwater fault that caused the magnitude-9.0 Tohoku earthquake last year.
The biggest array
South Africa and Australia will find out by March which of them might host the $2.1-billion Square Kilometre Array (SKA), which would be the world’s largest radio telescope if it is built. The decision will be made by the SKA’s programme development office in Manchester, UK. Meanwhile, the Atacama Large Milli-meter/Submillimeter Array in Chile’s Atacama Desert should be 60% complete by the end of the year.
In February, SpaceX of Hawthorne, California, hopes to be the first commercial firm to fly an unmanned cargo craft to the International Space Station—a milestone in private spaceflight. As for government space efforts, China, brimming with confidence after last year’s docking of the unmanned spacecraft Shenzhou-8 with the experimental module Tiangong-1, hopes to send astronauts up for a manned docking manoeuvre this year.
A useful synthetic genome
Synthetic biologists can build entire genomes from scratch, working from natural models, and they can also rewire the genetic circuitry of living things. But so far, no one has united the two approaches: Craig Venter’s synthetic genome of 2010 was cribbed wholesale from a bacterium and contained no new genetic circuitry beyond a DNA watermark. Might 2012 see the first really useful artificial genome?