Bringing Mars down to Earth

10 Oct 2017 11:47 AM

Scientists from around the world are gathering one kilometre underneath the Earth’s surface in the North East of England over the next fortnight to develop new technologies for future exploration of the Moon and Mars.

This fifth MINAR (Mine Analogue Research) event is being hosted at the Cleveland Potash Boulby Mine, where the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC) funded Boulby Underground Laboratory is one of just a handful of facilities worldwide suitable for deep underground science projects.

Working over 1km beneath the surface of the Earth, the group of international scientists will work together to test a wide range of equipment, including new means of studying microbial life. Deep underground is also an ideal environment for robotic and human explorers to better understand about the exploration challenges of other planets.

The researchers have come from across Europe, NASA and the SETI Institute in the United States, together with the Kalam Centre in India and will be joined by an astronaut from the European Space Agency, for what is the fifth session of the MINAR project to take place deep in the Boulby Mine.

In addition, by working in an active mine, MINAR hopes to cross-fertilise technology developments between planetary scientists and the global mining community.

Professor Sean Paling, the Director and Senior Scientist at STFC’s Boulby Underground Laboratory, says the support from Cleveland Potash as the mine operators is crucial. “It is a unique science and industry collaboration – and we couldn’t do the leading edge science we are focussing on in the lab without their support.”

He continues “Boulby has hosted the UK’s Dark Matter studies for a number of years, operating some of the most sensitive equipment in the world to try to detect what is believed to be the ‘missing’ material which makes up much of the mass of the universe but which does not emit light or energy.”

“In more recent times we have developed a range of other research programmes which can only be carried out in a facility such as Boulby, including MINAR, an initiative run by the UK Centre for Astrobiology to do science and test technologies for planetary exploration.”

But the event is not just for scientists – schools will be given access to live web feeds from over a kilometre underground, giving them an opportunity to see the planetary scientists at work and to learn about the preparations for planetary exploration and will also hear from ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer.

Adds Professor Charles Cockell, from Edinburgh University, head of the UK Centre for Astrobiology “The next two weeks provide a wonderful opportunity for scientists from many different parts of the world to come together to work in the mine and laboratories underground. We also want to use it as an opportunity to give as many people as possible an understanding of the challenges of planetary exploration and the technologies being developed.

“That is why we will be organising live feeds from deep in the mine—the first on Monday, October 16th, in collaboration with the Kalam Centre in India and the second, on Wednesday, October 18th, which will involve two sessions with Matthias Maurer, who is a member of the European Space Agency astronaut team.”

Marc Kirsten, Managing Director at Cleveland Potash said: “We are delighted to welcome the team of scientists who will be with us over the next fortnight. Since the Boulby Underground Laboratory was first set up in the early 1990s we have worked very closely together and now, of course, it is recognised as an internationally-important facility hosting an impressive range of world-leading studies.”

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Media Contacts:

STFC: Becky Parker-Ellis
Tel: +44(0)1793 444564

CPL: Peter Dodson
Tel: +44(0)7753 910536
Ken Ryalls
Tel: +44(0)7711 749172

Notes to Editors:

UK Centre for Astrobiology: MINAR 2017

STFC: Boulby Underground Laboratory