MINAR 2017 runs in October at the Boulby Mine
October 8-22nd, 2017
A kilometre underground, in the Boulby Mine, around 30 scientists will gather from October 9th to the 20th 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 as a space analog
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 (Payler et al., 2016). The work uses an astrobiology lab, BISAL (Boulby International Subsurface Astrobiology Laboratory), which is part of the Boulby Underground Laboratory (Cockell et al., 2013). We also have a deep subsurface MarsYard, a simulated deep subsurface cave in which we carrty out studies of deep subsurface exploration.
One dimension to analogue research within Boulby is the opportunity to link science and technology testing to mining. Mining has a number of challenges including the occurrence of deep subsurface gases and maintaining structural integrity of mining areas. Any analogue science and technology that addresses these concerns is of value to mining on Earth and potentially in space.
The following science questions are examples of areas that we have 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 detection and origin of deep subsurface gas deposits is of particular interest as not only does this have direct implications for the detection of deep subsurface gases on other planetary bodies but ‘gas blowouts’ are a major safety concern in mines.
There are a variety of technology and planetary exploration technologies and protocols that we test in the mine. They include:
- Communication protocols with the surface to emulate cave and lava tube exploration on the Moon and Mars.
- Clean sampling technologies.
- Testing a range of rovers and instruments for deep subsurface exploration on the Moon and Mars.
- Testing of autonomous drones and rover technology for deep subsurface mapping and exploration.
- Testing of gas detection technology.
- Testing of life detection technology.
Application to mining, on Earth and beyond
Our 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.