Mars On Earth: Astrobiologists look for places here to practice for missions on other planets

Jun 04, 2010 By Phillip F. Schewe

Like the Earth, the other planets and moons in our solar system have their own characteristic local surface materials and weather conditions. Scientists wanting to get the most of space-probe visits to these remote places are developing a better understanding of their local parameters and are building appropriate detectors by visiting places on Earth similar to these astronomical bodies.

Last week a team of planetary scientists journeyed to Chott el Jerid, a dry lake in Tunisia. The salt plain there is thought to be one of the nearest approximations to Mars’s high-latitude surface anywhere on . The dry lake is even red just like Mars, owing to iron atoms in the soil.

The scientists, led by Felipe Gomez of the Center for in Madrid, are looking at the sub-surface water, minerals on the surface, and biological samples from the lake, all with the aim of understanding the search for life in locations on Mars with analogous conditions.

Out on the dry lake the temperatures are typically 95 F or more, and internet reception is poor. Nevertheless, Dr. Gomez reported on May 27 that things were going well on the scientific front but not the human front: "Some bad news is that three persons from the team got ill yesterday due to something related to the food or the high temperature. They are feeling better today but we spent some time in Tozeur (a nearby town) looking for a pharmacy. Things are going well otherwise: with the drill we have discovered that there is a second ecosystem underneath the surface. Probably no oxygen and methanogenesis."

This research is sponsored by Europlanet Research Infrastructure, a venture underwritten by the European Union. Other analogous sites scheduled for scrutiny are the Popigai meteorite crater in Siberia and Rio Tinto in Spain, which are thought to mimic other parts of . Another site, the Svalbard archipelago in the , is supposed to resemble Jupiter’s , while the Kamchatka Peninsula should be a worthy stand-in for Saturn’s moon Titan.

Explore further: NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Provided by Inside Science News Service

not rated yet
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Taking a Bite of Antarctic Ice

Nov 16, 2009

Scientists with NASA’s IceBite project are heading this week for University Valley, a hanging valley perched more than 1600 feet (more than 1 mile) above sea level in Antarctica’s McMurdo Dry Valleys. ...

Mars Express to rendezvous with Martian moon

Jul 16, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- Scientists and engineers are preparing ESA’s Mars Express for a pair of close fly-bys of the Martian moon Phobos. Passing within 100 km of the surface, Mars Express will conduct some of ...

Recommended for you

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

1 hour ago

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Sun emits a mid-level solar flare

Apr 18, 2014

The sun emitted a mid-level solar flare, peaking at 9:03 a.m. EDT on April 18, 2014, and NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured images of the event. Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful ...

Impact glass stores biodata for millions of years

Apr 18, 2014

(Phys.org) —Bits of plant life encapsulated in molten glass by asteroid and comet impacts millions of years ago give geologists information about climate and life forms on the ancient Earth. Scientists ...

The importance of plumes

Apr 18, 2014

The Hubble Space Telescope is famous for finding black holes. It can pick out thousands of galaxies in a patch of sky the size of a thumbprint. The most powerful space telescope ever built, the Hubble provided ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Cosmologists weigh cosmic filaments and voids

(Phys.org) —Cosmologists have established that much of the stuff of the universe is made of dark matter, a mysterious, invisible substance that can't be directly detected but which exerts a gravitational ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.