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07 December 2023

UAE deserts offer perfect Mars-like conditions, says Nasa scientist

By Wam

The UAE's desert offers a "perfect" Mars-like environment to carry out research which can help support missions that seek evidence of life outside of Earth, the English language daily Khaleej Times quoted a research scientist as saying.

Dr. Rosalba Bonaccorsi, an astrobiologist from the SETI Institute at Nasa Ames Research Centre, is in Dubai as a guest lecturer for a winter space camp being held in Abu Dhabi by Compass International.

"She'll be teaching the 32 children enrolled about how existing life can go undetected, her experience of carrying out research in extreme environments and the search for life in space," according to the Dubai-based daily.

"I will share with the children my passion for conducting research in extreme environments on Earth. Most of my work is focused not only on addressing the potential to host extreme life in Mars-like environments (Mars analogs), but also in refining the best approach to seek and identify life," she said.

"The UAE is the perfect place where we can do our quest. There are interesting analogies between the places I have visited, the very dry desert regions of the Mojave (US), the Atacama (Chile), and Australia and the UAE Desert. My objective is to show how working in these Mars-like environments is beneficial to train the next generation of space explorers. During our field expedition, we always address scientific questions, study the geological context and do technology trials to support current or planned astrobiology missions, seeking evidence of life on planetary surfaces and underground."

The Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre, MBRSC, is currently building a $132-million scientific city in Dubai, which will feature a Mars-like environment inside and research materials from space - enabling scientists from all over the world to carry out research.

The project fits into the long-term vision of the UAE to build an entire city on Mars by 2117.

"Last but not the least, we will address how the search for life in space (Mars, icy moons, etc) fits in the SETI and Nasa astrobiology vision. Finding evidence of life on Mars or on distant planetary systems could have a profound impact on the way we perceive ourselves as humans, and our place in the universe, as well the destiny of our specie," Dr. Bonaccorsi said.

"I am very interested to see the students' take on this. The future has not been set in stone, yet. We can make choices and boldly go to the stars. Missions to space will require a great deal of collaboration and team work as well as thinking out of the box, and being more revolutionary in the way we develop our technology, rather than simply evolutionary."