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Iceland Volcano Aids Study of Martian Soil

Iceland
The sample rock team in Iceland. Credit: ESA/ISA-D. Leeb

Ibadan, 12 July 2023. – An international team of geologists has explored the foothills of the Lambahraun volcano in Iceland to search for grainy soil. This soil is essential as it is similar to some of the samples that NASA’s Perseverance rover has collected on Mars. This project was possible due to the similarities between Iceland and Mars.

According to Fiona Thiessen, a research fellow at ESA for the joint Mars Sample Return campaign, “This is not the first time scientists have come here to collect rocks. The basaltic terrain, cool temperatures, and sparse vegetation make the area similar to ancient Mars.” Thiessen also added, “We found great matches with the right grain size and olivine content. Our counterparts at NASA were very impressed with the samples.”

Taking advantage of the long hours of daylight in the Arctic, the group spent a whole day identifying samples matching the mineralogy, geochemistry, and physical properties of those from the rover. Furthermore, the team collected 450 kg of sand carried by the wind, called aeolian sand.

Iceland is one of the six locations on Earth that the team chose for the expedition and the third one where the team has completed the collection. Two earlier expeditions gathered sedimentary rocks in California, USA. However, the subsequent campaigns will take place in the Scottish Isle of Rum, UK, and Hart Mountain in Oregon, US.

“The technology team wants to use our Mars-like samples from Earth to test how to open the tubes and how to extract the soil. They would also look inside the tubes with tomography techniques that use X-rays and a computer to create detailed images,” concluded Thiessen.

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