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Mars on Earth – Dr. Anna Losiak

Monday, January 24, 2022

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Article by Dr. Anna Losiak,
Planetary Geologist at the Institute of Geological Sciences PAS

Even those at ESA and NASA, regular Mars Yards are nothing more than a pile of sand, maybe with some rocks scattered all over. European Rover Challenge’s playing field is very different: it is a scaled and realistic geological model of a Mars surface. Our Mars Yard showcases processes that shape the landscape of the Red Planet: we create a complex geological puzzle consisting of numerous impact craters, dunes, dry river valleys, and various volcanic features that very few people can solve.

To make things even more absurdly complicated, our Mars Yard is different each year and represents a distinct region of the Red Planet.

In our design, we do not reproduce any particular fragment of Mars 1 to 1; the result would not be representative anyway, and the density of points of interest, proportion of easily traversable and challenging sections would not be optimal for the competition. To make our Mars Yard look good in real life (and in the camera), be applicable for a technical test of rovers on various levels of maturity and make it geologically reasonable, we design a realistic but not actual surface of Mars. For example, in 2020, ERC contestants were investigating the Jezero Crater – a place of landing of the Perseverance rover. We designed large alluvial fans, relict delta hills, and numerous impact craters of different ages.

For 2021 we were initially planning to continue developing the topic of past water activity. However, after the publication of two revolutionary papers on the existence of active volcanoes on Mars, we changed our minds. By two independent methods, the papers showed that there is an ongoing volcanic activity in a region of the Elysium Planitia called Cerberus Fossae. So, we just had to design and build two active volcanoes and reproduce other geological features that can be seen in this section of the Red Planet.

The process of building our volcanoes fueled by the disco-fogging machines has proven to be much wetter than we anticipated, but we are very proud of the results. The ERC’21 Mars Yard showed two active volcanoes, three impact craters, three distinctive generations of lava flows and a myriad of tectonic features, and rootles cones indicative of lava–ice interaction. We hope that you managed to recognize at least some of those features!

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