To see Mars, visit Australia

Mar 19, 2010
Craters on Martian highlands (image courtesy NASA)

(PhysOrg.com) -- Ever wondered what it would be like on the planet Mars? You can see the next best thing right here on Earth in Australia's vast and ancient desert regions, according to a new scientific study.

The red-brown weathered rocky gibber plains of the Strzelecki and Sturt Stony Deserts, for example, bear a striking resemblance to the panoramas produced by several landers, says a team of Australian researchers writing in the journal Planetary and Space Science.

Many features common to Australia's desert regions have also been identified in images taken from Mars orbit.

Yet few scientists have explored the potential of Australia's quintessential desert landforms as research analogues for the surface of Mars, notes the team, which includes several researchers from the UNSW Australian Centre for Astrobiology (ACA).

Evidence of surface movements on the red planet - once imagined to be "canals" and therefore signs of civilisation - are seen in channels that resemble the flood outs formed where the ephemeral Finke and Todd rivers of central Australia terminate in the desert sands.

Likewise, Australia's massive dunefields - contained in seven interconnected deserts, most dunes are longitudinal and are up to 300km long, 10 to 35m high and spaced 16 to 200m apart - have shapes and surface crusts that may shed light on their equivalents on Mars.

"Australia's arid climate, general flatness, geological stability and ancient basement rocks have also left it with one of the best-preserved records of impact craters anywhere in the world," says the ACA Director, Professor Malcolm Walter.

"The wide range of crater types and ages in arid provides plenty of scope for analogue studies of the impact cratering and weathering processes that also happen on Mars, the Moon and other parts of the Solar System."

Martian surface channels (image courtesy NASA)

The remarkable rock formation known as Gosses Bluff, in the Northern Territory, served just such a role in association with the US Apollo space program. What appears to be a lone circular structure in an otherwise flat plain is in fact the eroded remnant of a massive crater that was once 24 km in diameter.

Extensive studies by US Geological Survey scientists in the 1960s paved the way for understanding the lunar craters encountered on Apollo voyages.

Among other features worth further investigation are Australia's hydrothermal springs, artesian water resources, eroded landscape patterns, salt and acid lakes and ancient volcanic remains.

Explore further: Image: A cosmic hurricane

More information: www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/00320633

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Meteor impacts: Life's jump starter?

Aug 08, 2005

Meteor impacts are generally regarded as monstrous killers and one of the causes of mass extinctions throughout the history of life. But there is a chance the heavy bombardment of Earth by meteors during the planet's youth ...

The Meandering Channels of Mars

Dec 10, 2009

Sinuous channels on the Martian surface may be evidence of relatively recent rainfall. Researchers plan to test this hypothesis by studying sinuous streams on Earth.

It's a grind to make Mars red

Sep 18, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- The widespread idea that Mars is red due to rocks being rusted by the water that once flooded the red planet may be wrong. Recent laboratory studies show that the red dust may be formed by ...

Channels from Mars Hale Crater

Oct 28, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- This image from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows channels to the southeast of Hale crater on southern Mars. Taken by the orbiter's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) ...

Recommended for you

Image: A cosmic hurricane

1 hour ago

The giant planet Saturn is mostly a gigantic ball of rotating gas, completely unlike our solid home planet. But Earth and Saturn do have something in common: weather, although the gas giant is home to some ...

User comments : 3

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

nuge
not rated yet Mar 20, 2010
Having been to some of these places I have to agree. THey do seem very other-worldly.
usscience
not rated yet Mar 21, 2010
Yes... I just read more about Mars here: usscience.com
http://www.usscie...cle7.asp
LuckyBrandon
not rated yet Mar 22, 2010
Yea but its still not anaolgous to studying mars. Differences in weather alone knock thta out of the ball park...not to mention tectonic activity and things of that nature...