The Planet Within:
Caves from Earth to Mars and Beyond
Penelope BOston, new mexico institute of mining & technology
WEDNESDAY, decEMBER 4, 2013 AT 7:00PM
WATERLOO COLLEGIATE INSTITUTE - 300 HAZEL ST. WATERLOO
We can set foot on faraway planets, in a sense, by exploring the world beneath our feet. Underground caves provide unique insights into what we might find beneath alien landscapes. We are studying caves on Earth to understand how they form, the spectacular minerals they produce, and the unusual creatures – from microbes to vertebrates – that thrive in them.
By understanding the caves of our own planet, we can use them as models for the subsurfaces of other planets. This work provides insights into the lava tubes on celestial bodies including Mars and our Moon, as well as possible dissolved caves on Titan, which orbits Saturn. There are many possibilities surrounding cave formation on practically every type of object in the Solar System.
Some of the most extreme cave environments on Earth are inhabited by an amazing array of microorganisms. Some of these creatures eat their way through bedrock, some live in hyperacid conditions, some produce unusual biominerals and rare cave formations, and many produce compounds of potential pharmaceutical and industrial significance. We study these unique organisms and the physical and chemical biosignatures they leave behind. Such traces can be used to provide a “Field Guide to Unknown Organisms” for developing life-detection space missions. Additionally, the lava tubes clearly present on Mars and the Moon can provide the basis for future human habitations on those planets.
Dr. Penelope Boston is Director of the Cave and Karst Studies Program and Professor in the Earth & Environmental Sciences Department at the New Mexico Institute of Mining & Technology, in Socorro, NM. Boston is also Associate Director of the National Cave and Karst Research Institute in Carlsbad, NM. Her research areas include geomicrobiology and astrobiology in extreme environments (caves, hot and cold deserts, high latitudes and altitudes); human life support issues in space and planetary environments; and use of robotics to assist exploration and science in extreme Earth and extraterrestrial environments. Boston is author of over 150 technical and popular publications, editor of 4 volumes, and author of an upcoming popular book. Her work has been featured in over 150 print and broadcast media outlets over the past several decades. Boston is recipient of the Science Award for lifelong achievement from the National Speleological Society, a Fellow of the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts, named a Caving Legend by the Ft. Stanton Cave Study Project, and recipient of the 2013 David P. McKay Life on Mars Award. As a student at the University of Colorado in the early 1980s, she co-founded the Case for Mars project and series of conferences.
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