MINAR 2017 runs in October at the Boulby Mine
A kilometre underground, in the Boulby Mine, around 30 scientists will gather until 20 October for the fifth underground campaign of MINAR (Mine Analogue Research) to develop science and technology for the robotic and human exploration of Mars and the Moon.
Researchers from institutions across Europe, NASA, The SETI Institute and the Kalam Centre India, as well as European Space Agency astronaut, Matthias Maurer will test drills, life detection equipment and new protocols for deep subsurface exploration.
The deep underground is the most promising environment for robotic and human explorers to understand about other planets and eventually to establish human outposts. MINAR will also continue studies of microbial life deep underground and will develop new curriculum materials and live links to the public as part of a wider educational initiative.
Boulby Mine is a 1.1 km deep active mine in the UK. It is constructed in giant salt deposits laid down quarter of a billion years ago in the Permian. The Zechstein Sea, which covered most of what is now Western Europe, resulted in the formation of kilometre thick salt sequences. The mine is comprised of over 1,000 km of roadways through these evaporites. Sites for study include brines and solid ancient salts in diverse salt types.
For the last four years the mine has been home to MINAR (Mine Analog Research), an initiative run by the UK Centre for Astrobiology to do science and test technologies for planetary exploration. The work uses an astrobiology lab, BISAL (Boulby International Subsurface Astrobiology Laboratory), which is part of the Boulby Underground Laboratory.
The following science questions are examples of the areas investigated:
•what is the source and nature of deep subsurface gases (methane and hydrogen are common gases)?
•does ancient salt preserve viable organisms?
•what type of organisms inhabit deep brines?
•what biosignatures of life are preserved in deep salts?
•what are the mineralogical, and structural geological characteristics of evaporite deposits.
The work in Boulby can be applied to mining exploration and safety. As ores on Earth become of lower grade and difficult to remove, so technologies to improve mining efficiency and safety have become important. In addition, technology in a mine analogue might be used to mine asteroids and for mining on the Moon and Mars.