Earth as our Space Lab

Good morning and Happy Independence Day, U.S.!

Today I'd like to show some ways that we use Earth as a planetary laboratory for other planets. Natural places around the world are used as "planetary analogues"- or efficient conditions to study the geologic formations we may find on other planetary bodies, the common one being Mars, but some places could be used for training astronauts or astrobiologists! There are quite a number of them around the world to explore, but today I will only post 4.

1.) Rio Tinto, Spain

This Mars-analogue is for studying the possibility of finding bacterial life in extreme subsurface conditions. Instruments have been tested for drilling and sampling content in this nearly-acidic river in Spain for future use on rovers to go to Mars. This is due to the revelation that liquid water may exist beneath Mars! The cool part? The bacteria does not need oxygen to survive!

Close up, orange colored area, Rio Tinto region, Spain. Image credit: Carol Stoker, NASA Ames Research Center

Close up, orange colored area, Rio Tinto region, Spain. Image credit: Carol Stoker, NASA Ames Research Center

2.) Atacama Desert, South America

Another Mars-analogue for studying the harsh low-water-content desert conditions for rover activity as well as a glimpse into some of the geology. Sand from this area have been used for gully-based studies in labs due to the similarity of the grains on Mars as discovered by the rover missions. 

3.) Lava Beds National Monument, California

Lunar sinuous rilles are curvy streams of lava ridges from an ancient volcanic past on the Moon. Lava Beds National Monument shows similar structures for planetary volcanic and cave enthusiasts. Researchers build small rovers and camera systems to explore these lava tubes to maybe one day exploring lava tube systems on another celestial body. Here's more:

4.) Berufjordur, Iceland

Certain basaltic minerals and rock formations have been detected on some of the earliest known crustal areas of Mars. To study these in comparison, scientists have found very early basalt formations in lava fields of Iceland. Not only is this area conditional for the mineralogy studies, but also how the rocks are situated with the nearby geology, such as glacial and fluvial processes- making this ideal to see how an early Mars geology may have been organized through the years. Here's more:

Thank you for visiting and come back next Monday on some adventurous tales from the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) in Green Bank, WV!



Caitlin Ahrens