Destination: Mars. We read about the Red Planet each day in news headlines from around the world, as ambitions plans are underway to colonize our nearby planetary neighbor in the decades to come.
It is a feat more easily said than done.
In the latest step toward eventual Martian colonization, it was reported early Thursday that the European Space Agency (ESA) was no longer able to detect signals from the Schiaparelli lander, indicating an apparent failure to make a “soft landing” on the rocky Martian terrain. The lander was one part of the ExoMars 2016 spacecraft, which did succeed in placing one of its craft in orbit around Mars, which will provide future scientific data, in addition to offering relay support for a planned 2020 mission with the new ExoMars rover, the New York Times reported.
Scientists recognize the difficulties in reaching other planets (part of the Schiaparelli lander’s mission was to help gauge European landing technologies on board the craft, along with studying the craft’s descent). While manned travel to other planets, and eventual colonization thereafter, is still at least several years, if not decades away, there are still many places here on terra firma that are unusual enough in appearance that they would almost qualify for being “alien” worlds.
Here are just a few places from around the globe that will whet the appetites of the eventual space explorers in our midst:
Goblin Valley State Park, Utah, United States
For the future hopeful Martian wanderer, perhaps no place on Earth so clearly resembles the stone-studded terrain of the Red Planet like Goblin Valley State Park, in Utah. Geological formations that feature erosion resistant minerals situated on top of more erosive Entrada sandstone formations has led to the unique formation of stone formations called hoodoos, which are the same as the “goblins” referred to at this striking desert valley.
Due to its alien appearance, Goblin Valley was used as one of the live locations appearing in the film Galaxy Quest. Fees incurred by the film’s production company in reaching the remote location were applied toward the pavement of roads into the area, which have made Goblin Valley more accessible to future visitors.
The Rainbow Mountains, Danxia Landform Geological Park, China
This colored mountain range in China almost looks to crazy to be real: vibrant, “technicolor” slopes with a marbled rainbow appearance that simply scream “take me to your leader.” They’re so strange looking that many would think, at first glance, that pictures of them are simply digital manipulations; however, a similar mountain range also exists in British Columbia, Canada.
China’s Rainbow Mountains are part of the Zhangye Danxia Landform Geological Park, and are comprised of various kinds of sandstone and minerals that have been mashed together and thrust upward due to stress built up by tectonic plates. This natural “marbleization” occurred over the course of 24 million years.
Spotted Lake, British Columbia, Canada
Among the many beautiful natural features in British Columbia is the very unusual looking Spotted Lake, a body of water near the Similkameen Valley which mostly evaporate during warmer periods of the year, resulting in circular pools that vary in color due to their mineral content.
Spotted Lake is a variety of saline endorheic alkali lake, featuring concentrations of more than eleven different minerals, with large amounts of calcium, sodium sulphates, silver, titanium, and magnesium sulfate, the latter being one of the most significant factors determining coloration of the lake’s pools. It is a traditional medicinal location for the region’s Okanagan Syilx people.
Giant’s Causeway, County Antrim, Northern Ireland
Arguably one of the most fascinating natural geological formations in the world, the Giant’s Causeway is recognized as fourth among the greatest natural wonders in the United Kingdom. These majestic hexagonal stone formations occur naturally, due to basalt formations produced during ancient volcanic eruptions, which were subjected to cooling and contraction thereafter.
However, legends appended to the Causeway’s very otherworldly natural features tell of a giant (as the name entails) named Fionn mac Cumhaill, who was challenged by a Scottish Giant said to reside near Fingal’s Cave on the isle of Staffa (where nearly identical geological features exist). According to the story of the bout between giants, Fionn learned that his Scottish aggressor was much larger than he, and in order to defeat him, tasked his wife with disguising him as an infant. When the Scottish giant arrived and found the “baby” in its crib, he fled back to Scotland, fearing the assumed size of the child’s father.
Despite being known to have resulted from natural geological factors, the “machined” appearance of the Causeway’s hexagonal stones have contributed to speculation over the decades that the location was some kind of ancient construction, perhaps one of mysterious “alien” origin.
Socotra Island, Arabian Sea, Yemen
Few places on Earth boast an array of natural features so unique as Socotra, an island situated within a small archipelago in the Arabian sea. Recognized as territory of Yemen, Socotra is home to nearly 700 different species of flora and fauna found nowhere else on earth, rivaled only by locations like Hawaii and the Galapagos islands for their rich biodiversity.
For those truly in search of the most alien-looking places our planet has to offer, Socotra was described by the linguist and anthropologist George Wynn Brereton Huntingford as literally being “the most alien-looking place on Earth”.
Space colonization may yet be decades away, but in the remote corners of our own lonely little mudball, there are still innumerable opportunities to experience ways of life most would never recognize as being “earthly”… perhaps even enough to satisfy the eventual wayward space-wanderers in our midst.