Nine places on Earth that mimic Mars terrain
Scientists say that Mars went through three ages, and the first age may have been habitable for life as we know it. Each stage on Mars can be found at nine different locations around the planet Earth today.
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When it comes to evaporites, acidic environments on Earth could serve as compelling analogs for acid sulfate-rich regions such as Meridiani Planum on Mars, including seasonally dry, acid lakes in Western Australia, the Rio Tinto basin in Spain and cold acid drainage systems in the Canadian Arctic.Skip to next paragraph
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These acidic environments on Earth are either rich in microbes or possess evidence of microbial activity, and as such could shed light on Meridiani Planum, which is considered a prime target for the search for any organic material that life could potentially have left on Mars.
Second age of Mars — Snowball Mars
As Mars became increasingly dry and cold some 3 billion to 3.6 billion years ago, its water froze, leaving its surface nearly or entirely frozen. The disappearance of the planet's magnetic field and the surface's increasing cold and aridity probably made it dramatically less habitable overall.
Still, there was massive volcanism, leading to episodic inundations of large parts of the lowlands, which might have provided favorable conditions for the preservation and evolution of life. The prevailing conditions on the surface then were probably similar to ones seen at polar regions on Earth, including large ice sheets and glaciers.
Astrobiologists looking for lessons on Mars are especially interested in how microbes and signs of life on Earth are preserved for long spans of time in ice, and how microorganisms deal with the rigors of arctic conditions and impact their environment. Ice and permafrost on Earth are known to hold a large number of viable microbes up to 8 million years old, with permafrost bacteria showing measurable activity down to at least minus 4 degrees F (minus 20 degrees C), and that survival could even extend to at least minus 40 degrees F (minus 40 degrees C).
Three analogs on Earth for "Snowball Mars" include Axel Heiberg Island in the extreme northern regions of the Canadian High Arctic, Beacon Valley in Antarctica, and the North Greenland Eemian Ice Drilling Project site.
The permafrost at Axel Heiberg island is analogous to Martian permafrost; Greenland is a good analog to the martian north polar layered deposits, exhibiting similar patterns when it comes to accumulations of material, and the up to 10-million-year-old ice of Beacon Valley might be the oldest known ice on Earth, and as such could shed light on anything preserved for long times on Mars.
Third age of Mars — Hyper-arid Mars
The last age of Mars that has persisted for the past 3 billion years has seen an extremely dry and cold Red Planet with a surface bathed by hostile solar ultraviolet radiation. The cold, coupled with an extraordinarily thin atmosphere, means that liquid water cannot survive long on the surface, which is probably the most serious constraint for life there. [Most Amazing Mars Rover Discoveries]
Although there are no places on Earth today akin to the arid and cold conditions seen on Mars today, there are two areas where liquid water is extremely fleeting. In the Atacama Desert in Chile, the heat makes water vaporize, while in University Valley in Antarctica, the water freezes.