26 november 2012

Canadian mine site as a stand-in for Mars


(Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)
Jeffrey Mine, the last operating asbestos mine in Canada, could find a new calling as a substitute for the surface of Mars.

The Jeffrey Mine, a huge asbestos mine in the province of Quebec, was the site of an experiment by Canada’s Space Agency recently.

The mine was chosen as a stand-in for Mars in a simulated mission involving scientists from four universities and a “micro- rover” robot. The scientists who visited the mine last year, and again just recently say there are places on Mars that resemble the mine.

NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover has been sending photos of the red planet, which has similar properties to the Jeffrey Mine. (NASA/Associated Press)

The goal of the project was to simulate as closely as possible a Mars rover mission to detect the presence of methane and determine the source. The mine hosts a type of rock (serpentinite) that is prone to bacteria, the basis of life. Methane is a by-product of bacterial action and one of two key indicators of life as we know it. The other is water.

Methane has been detected in the Martian atmosphere, and the waist-high rover named “Kapvik” was put to use in the mine during research to try to detect it and identify the source.

The Jeffrey mine is in the process of winding down operations towards closure, is Canada’s last asbestos mine. With a diameter of over two kilometres, and at 350 metres in depth, it is also one of the biggest open pit mines in the world.

The Jeffrey (asbestos) Mine in Quebec, is huge, and once employed about 2,000 workers. Only a handful are left, but the site may get some renewal as a destination for space researchers. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Canadian scientists believe the mine site has a future as a Mars substitute for experiments. They also say that the approximately 35 kg Kapvik rover has a future in space exploration due to its size and cost. They say it has great advantages over the Curiosity rover which weighs 900 kg and that mission which cost $2.5 billion. They say a Mars mission with Kapvik might cost only around $100 million.

(MM with files from CBC)


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