Most of us will probably never set foot on the actual moon landscape, but did you know that you can visit mars and moon landscapes on earth?
Let’s be real: while most of us will probably never set foot on the actual moon landscape, there is a solution that will have you second-guess if you’re still on our home planet.
And that is to visit these Moon- or Mars landscapes right here on Earth!
Through NASA’s Curiosity Rover, we got a close look at the surface of our neighbouring planet Mars and after doing a bit of research, I found plenty of bizarre terrains on Earth that actually are quite similar to what you might find on the surface of our neighbouring moons and planets.
In the “Catalogue of Planetary Analogues” by ESA, the European Space Agency, you can find all locations that show resemblance to some of the planets and moons in our solar system.
From impact craters to tundra, deserts and volcanic areas, these destinations have similar microbial habitats along with the land formations that make them a good comparison to what’s out there.
You can read more about the Catalogue of Planetary Analogues (and download it whole for free) on the website of ESA >
But if you’re not so much a reader, or want to skip the difficult science parts of the document, here is a visual guide to the best moon-like landscapes you can find (and often easily visit) right here on our own planet Earth.
There are many surreal places not yet on the list below, but I’m keep adding to it, so make sure to come back soon for more!
MARS & MOON LANDSCAPES ON EARTH
MOON LANDSCAPES IN NORTH AMERICA
Kīlauea & Mauna Kea, Hawaii, USA
Kīlauea is a volcano part of the Hawaiian-Emperor seamount chain, and one of five shield volcanoes that together form the island of Hawaii. It is the youngest and most active volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii.
This type of volcano is great to learn more about both Mars as the Moon, since it’s possible to study basaltic lavas, caves, lava tubes, collapse pits, skylights, life in the subsurface and in basalt and extremophiles (an organism with optimal growth in environmental conditions considered extreme).
Kīlauea also features volcanic deserts, gullies, alluvial plains and Mars-like outwash channels.
By studying Kīlauea, NASA scientists are also getting a better sense of the causes of volcanism on Io, one of Jupiter’s moons. They are finding that a tidal process, similar to what we see here on Earth, could be at play.
There is a visitors centre at the main vent of Kīlauea, but there are no huts or stations on the lava fields itself.
Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano and also often used by NASA for observation and training of their astronauts. No wonder it has gotten the nickname “Apollo Valley”!
You might be surprised to learn that a large part of astronaut training actually consists of geology lessons, teaching them all about volcanic and fiberglass-like formations, rock distribution, lava flows, lava tubes and soil composition. No better place to test drive your lunar rover, too!
At the peak of the Mauna Kea, there is a cluster of world-class observatories providing important astronomical observations. More information here >
If you are an experienced hiker, you can climb to the summit during the day on an eight-hour round-trip trek. Or go at night with your four-wheel drive, from the visitors center to the volcano’s summit to watch the sunset and gaze at the stars… while dreaming of stepping foot on the moon.
Utah Desert, USA
Hanksville in the US State of Utah is home to the Mars Desert Research Station. This two-story station was launched by the Mars Society and is a stand-in for the potential research station they are looking to build on Mars.
Although much warmer than Mars, the desert location was selected because of its Mars-like terrain and appearance. The programme allows extensive long-duration geology and biology field exploration operations to be conducted in the same style and under many of the same constraints as they would be on Mars.
Over 1000 people have been here since 2001, to participate in missions of about two to three weeks.
Want to volunteer? Head over to The Mars Society, which advocates for sending humans to Mars as soon as possible and is actively recruiting.
According to Elon Musk we could be living on Mars as soon as 2060 (Dutch organization Mars One seems to believe 2027 is doable…) and even Barack Obama is excited about this!
The Utah Desert is large, so there are plenty of locations to visit to get a bit of an off-planet feel. How about:
Rainbow Bridge is one of the world’s largest known natural bridges and located in the red desert landscape of southern Utah, you can really get a good feel of the colours, geology and even the isolation you might feel when visiting another planet, such as Mars.
Walk through red canyons made of red-brown Kayenta sandstone and admire the pinnacles… almost like you’re standing in Mars’ own version of the Grand Canyon: Valles Marineris.
Goblin Valley State Park
I had never even heard of the term “hoodoo” before, but apparently, that’s what the shape of Goblin Valley’s rock formations are known as. They are the result of the varying hardness of the park’s sandstone.
The park, together with Bryce Canyon National Park, also in Utah, contain some of the largest occurrences of hoodoos in the world.
You can probably see why businessman Arthur Chaffin called the area “Mushroom Valley”, when he stumbled across them in the 1920s.
Do you remember the sci-fi comedy movie “Galaxy Quest”? It was filmed here!
Bryce Canyon National Park
Situated along a high plateau at the top of the Grand Staircase, Bryce Canyon’s high elevations include numerous life communities, fantastic dark skies, and geological wonders that defy description.
Bryce is not a single canyon, but a series of natural amphitheaters or bowls, carved into the edge of a high plateau. The most famous of these is the Bryce Amphitheater (that you can see on the photo below), which is filled with irregularly eroded hoodoos.
They have a special astronomy program where you can learn about and enjoy the splendor of the night sky, or you can go on a unique full moon hike!
There are two campground sites (one in winter) and lodging is available at the Bryce Canyon Lodge during the summer season. Hotel rooms are available in the park at Best Western PLUS Bryce Canyon Grand Hotel (see best prices here >).
Fly Geyser, Black Rock Desert, Nevada, USA
Did you know that Fly Geyser was created by accident in 1964 when scalding water began erupting through a man-made well? The dissolved minerals developed the mount and terraces that now surround the geyser.
It continues to grow and release water up to five feet (1.5 meters) into the air. The algae provide the outer-worldly colours on the geyser.
The appearance of the geyser keeps changing and the site has only recently been opened to the public, since it is located on a plot of private land.
In June 2016, the non-profit Burning Man Project purchased the 3800 acres (1500 ha) Fly Ranch, including the geyser, for a mere $6,5 million US dollars.
The geyser can be seen from State Route 34 north of the town Gerlach and on location, you can participate in weekend Nature Walks, where you get to see a portion of the area. You cannot take photos during the walk itself, so you can connect with the land and each other, but you can do this afterwards.
Death Valley, California, USA
Researchers have been coming to Death Valley for decades to study the desert’s many ancient yet accessible rock layers in this below-sea-level basin that is one of the hottest places on earth.
Despite its name, a great diversity of life survives in Death Valley!
Death Valley was used by NASA as a test location for Curiosity Rover, that landed on Mars in 2012.
The craters and below-sea-level basin of this national park in Southern California were used to test the 10 scientific instruments the rover would use on Mars.
For the results of the actual mission, please check the website of NASA.
For directions to Death Valley, please refer to the park’s own website. Note that there is NO cellphone reception in the park and GPS Navigation has proven to be unreliable. Always carry up-to-date road maps to check the accuracy of GPS directions!
Craters of the Moon National Monument, Idaho, USA
If we ever make it to Mars, we already know that due to its hostile environment, we will have to dive straight under the surface of the planet.
That is exactly the reason why a team of NASA researchers gathered in 2017 at Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho: to create the first complete 3D scan of Indian Tunnel, one of the largest and most accessible lava tubes at the monument.
Through their hard work, we will understand more about our own planet’s geologic past and it will also allow scientists to learn more about potential subterranean living on other planets, such as Mars.
Craters of the Moon’s visitor center is located 18 miles southwest of Arco, Idaho on U.S. Highway 20/26/93.
There are five caves you can explore within the Monument. Before entering any cave in the park, you must be “screened” for white-nose syndrome, a deadly fungal bat disease.
Plan your visit through the website of the park >
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA
The North American Plate has moved over the last 17 million years by plate tectonics across a stationary mantle hotspot. The landscape of present-day Yellowstone National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) is the most recent manifestation of this hotspot below the crust of the Earth.
The features of this area, such as hot springs and mineral deposits such as silica sinters are related to giant calderas and super volcanoes that have have existed on Mars.
Also the extremophilic microorganisms that thrive in the hot springs and geothermal areas of Yellowstone are astrobiological analogues to those that might have existed with martian geothermal features in the past.
Make sure to check out the “Chocolate Pots”, these are 42+ vents on and under the Gibbon river, 8 of which have formed small cones. The major cones spout up to 2 feet due to hydrostatic pressure.
Also the Grand Prismatic Springs are a sight of their own. This is the largest hot spring in the United States (diameter of 100m, and depth of 50m) with rings of colourful heat tolerant (thermophile) bacteria that ring the lake and produce the characteristic ‘prism’ effect.
Immediately adjacent is the Excelsior Geyser Crater, a hot spring and dormant geyser, with a large outflow channel leading directly into Firehole river.
There are several surreal locations in the state of Arizona that are very similar to the conditions you would find on for example the moon. No wonder it’s a prima spot for astronauts to do their training!
Have a look at some of the wonderful places you can find here:
Black Point Lava Flow
The alien-like black basaltic lava flow is part of Arizona’s San Francisco Volcanic Field. This is a group of geologically young (about 6 million to less than 1000 years old) volcanoes, lava flows and cinder cones located just north of Flagstaff in the state of Arizona.
This site is perfect for training and systems testing for future exploration missions to the moon, according to NASA.
This is the site where in 1967, the United States Geological Survey turned an old volcano (that exploded around 1064) into a lunar training ground for astronauts. They did this by using 1153 pounds of dynamite and 28.650 pounds of nitro-carbo-nitrate to blast themselves over a hundred ‘lunar craters’.
The area was already covered in basaltic cinders from the volcanic eruption, which is much of the same material as the Mare Tranquillitatis, which was chosen as the landing site for the Apollo 11 mission on the moon. With the newly shaped landscape, they could test their equipment, knowledge and skills while still on Earth!
In the northern Arizona desert you can find an imposing-looking crater. It wasn’t until the 1960s that they understood this was no volcanic crater, but an ancient meteor crash site.
Although this is a very important geological site, the crater is not protected as a national monument, because it is privately owned.
The crater is about 1200 meters / 3900 feet in diameter and about 170 meters / 560 feet deep. The rim rises 45 meters / 148 feet above the surrounding plains.
At the site, you there is an interactive educational experience for the entire family at the Meteor Crater Visitor Center. From here, you can visit the Widescreen theater, the indoor crater viewing area, you get Crater Trail access and can also visit the Interactive Discovery Center, the 4D Experience Room, or see Artifacts and Exhibits and browse the Gift & Mineral Shop.
For more information, visit the Meteor Crater website >>
If you’ve ever wondered what happens when the earth cracks open and hot cinders and poisonous gases get spewed high into the air, you need to head over to Sunset Crater Volcano!
Just 1000 years old, Sunset Crater is the youngest in a string of the San Francisco volcanic field volcanoes.
There is a Visitor Center, which is open from 9AM to 5PM and there is a 34 mile scenic loop you can drive, winding from Highway 89 and the high Ponderosa Pine forests at Sunset Crater Volcano down nearly 2000 feet in elevation to the red rocks of Wupatki National Monuments.
Plan your visit to Sunset Crater >>
Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA
Venus is an inhabitable planet with a volcanic surface and clouds that rain sulfuric acid that bake the crust to about 471 degrees Celsius / 880 degrees Fahrenheit. It seems like we’re never able to land here!
For the hypothetical High Altitude Venus Operational Concept (HAVOC) mission, NASA envisions solar-powered cloud cities that float above the surface, where the temperature and other conditions are a bit less hostile.
Want to experience what that would be like? Going up in a hot-air balloon seems to currently be the only way to do it!
The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque in New Mexico is the epi-center of balloons filled with hot-air, so head over in October for this 9-day festival to witness over 500 balloons launch in a spectacle you won’t soon forget!
I did a hot-air balloon ride in India, check the blog to read more about this bucket list experience >>
The Spotted Lake (Kliluk), Osoyoos, Canada
This almost alien-like lake in British Colombia’s desert contains large amounts of minerals, including calcium and sodium sulfates, that have seeped in from the surrounding rock.
In Summer, the water evaporates and the minerals are revealed in more than 300 separate pools, varying in colour from yellow to green and blue. They look like “spots”, hence the name of the lake.
Spotted Lake has been considered a sacred place for centuries by the indigenous people of the Okanagan Nation. They call it “Kliluk” and believe the lake has healing properties.
If you want to see the lake, you can’t get too close due to a fence that has been erected to protect the culturally and ecologically sensitive area. But from the highway there are plenty of good vantage spots.
Read more on the website of the British Columbia tourist board >>
On the 31st January of 2011, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft passed by several of Saturn’s moons, and shot images of Enceladus showing jets of water vapor and ice erupting from the south polar terrain of the moon.
That suggested that there was a reservoir of water below the frozen surface of the moon, but researches discovered something even more interesting: calculations showed there is a global ocean under the icy crust!
Curious to experience what it would be like to take a swim here? Head over to Greenland, where you can dive below icebergs, but be aware: dives with melting icebergs all around you can be very dangerous!
If you’re looking for something a little bit less risky, maybe the SCUBA training site at Morrison’s Quarry in Canada is an option for you.
MOON LANDSCAPES IN SOUTH AMERICA
The Atacama Desert, Chile
Years of erosion have turned the Atcama desert in Northern Chile and Southern Peru into one of the driest places on Earth.
Annual rainfall averaging less than one inch (25.4 mm) and the dramatic landscape consists of dry riverbeds, wind-sculpted rocks, salt-dusted mountains and jagged peaks. You can understand why they call one of the valleys in the desert “El Valle de la Luna” (Moon Valley)!
In a region about 100 km south of the port city of Antofagasta, which averages 3000 meters height, the soil has been compared to that of Mars.
You can expect almost void-of-life desert pavement (a surface covered with closely packed rock fragments), volcanic, impact and hydrothermal deposits, playas (dry lakes), channels, alluvial fans (triangular-shaped deposits of water-transported material), among other Mars-like features.
It might come as no surprise that scientists have tested several rover prototypes here (but also not that the movie “A Space Odyssey” was filmed here)
While you don’t need a permit to get into the desert, you absolutely need a 4-wheel drive, a GPS and make sure to plan your routes ahead of time using satellite imagery.
There is no infrastructure here, so camping is essential and you need to carry everything with you into the desert – and of course out of it again. Be aware though that the desert is not empty – there are many active mining operations and there are people traveling throughout,so do not leave anything unattended. Best time to visit is the Autumn or spring in the U.S.
MOON LANDSCAPES IN OCEANIA
If you have ever visited Central “Outback” Australia, you have probably already felt like you walked on Mars.
With the deep red and rocky landscape, the ancient terrains and arid regions of this part of the world, there are large parts where scientists can perform research.
Here, you can find mound springs (natural outlets where pressure forces underground water to the surface), barchan dunes (crescent-shaped dunes), impact craters, a variety of volcanic fields, so-called “Martian soils” and more features all analogous to those on the Moon and Mars.
Hydrothermal deposits (accumulations of valuable minerals) and hot springs are also observed with extremophiles (like we saw already in Hawaii), micro-fossils and stromatolites (read more about them further along in the section about Pilbara in Australia!).
Southern hemisphere Winter is the best time to visit, and to get anywhere in the desert areas a 4WD is a necessity. The nearest airport is in Alice Springs.
Hamelin Pool, Pilbara, Australia
One of the most unique places I ever visited on my travels has to be Hamelin Pool in the state of Western Australia. Here, you can get up close with some of the Earth’s oldest micro-fossils, and something called “Stromatolites”.
Stromatolites are layered mounds, columns, and sheet-like sedimentary rocks that were originally formed by the growth of layer upon layer of cyanobacteria, a single-celled photosynthesizing microbe. They are considered ‘living fossils’ and play an important part in the Earth’s evolutionary history.
Hamelin Pool is one of only four places on earth where living marine stromatolites exist and the location contains by far the biggest colony on earth. They are believed to grow at a maximum of 0.3 mm per year!
This location can provide insights into the origins of life on both Earth as Mars and the preservation potential for life in general.
To visit, Hamelin Pool is about 1,5 hours drive from Denham and one hour 45 mins drive from Monkey Mia. Best time to visit is in the southern winter as summers can get very hot.
The Pinnacles, Nambung National Park, Western Australia
The yellow Pinnacle Desert in the Nambung National Park in Western Australia can really make you feel like you’re walking on the moon and makes for a great day trip.
The geological formations were formed about 25.000 years ago, after the sea receded this area and left deposits of sea shells. Coastal winds removed all of the surrounding sand over the years and left nothing but the exposed limestone pillars.
Make sure to also visit The Pinnacles Desert Discovery Centre, open daily, just like the rest of the park. The Pinnacle Lookout is located just behind the visitor center.
From the center’s car park, you can also step onto the “Desert View Trail”, which is an easy, 1.5 kilometer, 45 minutes return walk through the desert. Or just drive around the Pinnacles in your own car! You don’t need a 4-wheel drive here as the roads are sealed.
The best time of the year to visit is July, August, September and October.
Read our full article about The Pinnacles in Australia on the blog >
Glow Worm Caves, Waitomo, New Zealand
While it might not quite resemble the surface of the Moon or Mars, these unique caves in New Zealand are definitely otherworldly. It’s not every day that you can see such a unique phosphorescent glow in nature!
Glow worms aren’t actually worms, but fly larvae that emit the glow, through their waste and snot… Yum! But that aside, it’s actually really clever: the larvae make their prey believe they’re outside (the glow looking like a starry night sky) and trick them into their sticky threads inside the caves as they fly upward.
The caves were discovered by a local Maori chief in the late 19th century and since then, over half a million people visit the caves yearly. There are various options when it comes to tours, for example with Black Water Rafting, Spellbound or Caveworld.
MOON LANDSCAPES IN EUROPE
I am pretty sure that you didn’t know Iceland was the training ground of the Apollo astronauts back in the 1960s! And no, they didn’t train their moonwalks there, but in fact they did a lot of geological research.
In recent investigations, NASA has determined the Icelandic landscape is pretty similar to Mars due to the extreme size of the island’s volcanic eruptions (there are 30 active volcanic systems with associated geothermal activity), turning Iceland into a natural laboratory for analogue studies of Mars and the Moon.
The terrain has also proven helpful in deciding the best landing sites for spacecrafts for when humans finally make it to Mars.
Rugged Iceland provides a fantastic playground for planetary surface activities: there are basaltic lavas, lava tubes, caves, ridges, cones, hydrothermal deposits, Mars-like soils and pyroclastics, pillow lavas, hot springs and geysers and volcanic Aeolian (surfaces shaped by the wind) features such as dunes.
Satisfy your Interplanetary Wanderlust by visiting for example:
Iceland is easily reached via air and the main international airport is Keflavík located in the southwest of the country about 40 km from Reykjavík. Many sites can be driven to (in winter you need a 4WD – read all about driving in Iceland on the website of the tourist board >) with a short hike at the end. Any sites in the higher volcanic areas will require extensive hiking.
On the volcanoes there are many marked hiking trails and huts leading to the summits. The weather can change here without warning, so be prepared and if possible have a GPS and/or sat phone.
Mid-June to August is high season, but accessibility can be limited until as late as July because of snow. Many facilities outside Reykjavík are closed from September to May.
Piramidi di Segonzano, Trento, Italy
In the region of Trentino in Northern Italy, you can visit the “Piramidi di Segonzano”, one of the most studied geological phenomena in the world. But chances are that you’ve never heard of them, am I right?
I know I hadn’t before I visited this otherworldly place recently.
At an altitude of 875 meters (2870 ft) in the Cembra Valley, the “pyramids of Segonzano” reach up to 40 meters (131 ft). They were formed about 50.000 years ago, when the movement of the Avisio glaciers and the consequent disintegration of the mountain sides produced enormous moraine deposits.
These deposits, consisting of earth and small pebbles, were covered by a landslide of large porphyry boulders. Under the weight of the boulder, that almost look like hats these days, the soil becomes more compact (almost like cement) and actually protects the pillars from rain erosion. Just like a giant stone umbrella!
It’s an amazing place to visit and makes for a great day out with the whole family. The site is open to visitors all year round and you can reach different viewing platforms by a specially equipped, clearly marked path.
Read our full article about Piramidi di Segonzano on the blog and make sure to check out our video below >
The Ries Impact Crater, Nördlinger, Germany
Several asteroid and comet collisions have shaped the surface of our planet Earth throughout history. One of them occurred about 14.5 million years ago.
A projectile of 1.5 km in diameter slammed into the Earth in the area we now know as Bavaria in Germany, leaving a 24 km in diameter, round shaped crater.
Of course you can imagine that this is a unique place to study the products of impact cratering, and some of the Apollo astronauts trained here prior to their missions to the Moon.
The medieval town of Nördlingen, that also hosts the Rieskrater Museum (Ries Crater Museum), is not just a great visit because it’s actually build inside the crater, but also because the buildings here are embedded with millions of microscopic diamonds, all a result of the asteroid impact.
The area is a registered Geopark, run and maintained by the Rieskrater Museum.
The impact structure is easily accessible along the “Romantische Strasse”, the Romantic Road that winds through Bavaria from Frankfurt to Munich. Stuttgart International Airport is about 150 km to the East, this is an easy drive and is the recommended route.
Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain
Volcanism helped shape Tenerife, the largest of Spain’s Canary Islands. The summit of the Teide stratovolcano reaches 3718 meters (12.198 feet) above sea level. But much of the volcano’s impressive height is unseen. If you include what’s below the water line, the volcano rises 7500 meters (24.606 feet) from the ocean floor! This makes it the third tallest volcanic structure on Earth.
About 190 square kilometers (73 square miles) of land around the summit are protected as part of Teide National Park. In 2007, the park was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Las Cañadas caldera on top of Teide is used by space agencies to test planetary rovers, since the environmental conditions and geological formations are also similar to those on Mars.
Since 1964, you can observe the stars from the Teide Observatory (Observatorio del Teide). It became one of the first major international observatories with telescopes from different countries.
The Teide national park is open for public and accessible by road. Find out everything about guided (stargazing) tours on the visitor information website >>
Mount Etna, Sicily, Italy
The stratovolcano Mount Etna in Sicily has never really stopped erupting, and with altering volcanic topographies, it’s a great place to do scientific and robotic studies for both Moon and Mars missions.
In 2017 tests with robots have been conducted by the German Aerospace Centre on the “Piano del Lago” area of the volcano, a desolate stretch of terrain buffeted by strong winds. Aim of the research was to improve robotic equipment that will be used in space.
Etna is one of the rare volcanoes in the world where it is possible to observe the birth of new eruptive mouths. There are no less than 300 lateral craters and 250 lava tubes.
When you visit, there are several options to do (hiking) tours for all levels of fitness. More information can be found on the website of the tourist board >
Scientists have been using the Norwegian archipelago Svalbard since 2003 as a testing ground for technology destined for Mars.
Because of its location near the Arctic circle, you will not only find harsh cold temperatures, but rocky outcrops, permafrost and volcanic geology in the area, mirroring several Martian environments, including the poles and equatorial craters of the Red Planet.
This place on Earth is a great place for testing Mars rover vehicles and sensors that have been tested here as prototypes are now being used aboard Curiosity on Mars and future instruments for the ExoMars mission.
You can read more about this research on the website of the European Space Agency (ESA) >>
Aurora Borealis, Norway / Iceland / Sweden / Finland
During solar storms, the sun ejects particles that only planets with magnetic fields and an atmosphere turn into amazing light shows.
Our lucky planet for example, is able to show dancing ribbons of green, blue, red and purple shades in the night sky (near our North and South Poles), because the particles interact with our atmosphere’s gases.
A similar phenomenon has been witnessed around the poles of Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus. We call them “Aurora Borealis” in the North (Northern Lights) and “Aurora Australis” in the South.
You need a bit of good luck to witness this phenomenon however, but there are many tours offering you a chance to see it with your own eyes.
The best time for these tours is between September and April (in Northern Scandinavia), because the skies are the most dark and the nights the longest at this moment.
In the United States, visit the website of the Geophysical Institute in Fairbanks, Alaska, as they keep an eye on the current state of the aurora and offer an aurora forecast.
MOON LANDSCAPES IN AFRICA
The Namib Desert, South Africa / Angola / Namibia
The Namib Desert extends about 2000 km from the Olifants River in South Africa to the Carunjamba River in Angola and is the oldest desert in the world.
The desert provides analogues for both the Moon and Martian features such as deserts, sand and gravel, sand seas and dunes.
The sand dunes, some of which are 300 meters high and span 32 kilometers long, are the second largest in the world and are closest in size to those on Mars.
As for testing ground, this is the perfect place to study life in conditions of low water availability and high temperatures. A lot of studies are done at the Gobabeb Namib Research Institute.
Chemically, the Namib Desert is almost completely lacking water bodies on the surface as most rivers flow underground and/or are dry for most of the year, mimicking conditions proposed for Mars today and in the past.
Windhoek is the nearest airport. There is limited fuel away from the main cities and roads, so bring your own supplies and drinking water. The nearest town, Walvis Bay, is 120 kilometres away.
The best time to travel is in the southern hemisphere winter. However, it’s also high tourist season so accommodation and vehicles may have limited availability. Book well ahead of time.
Bahariya and Farafra Depressions, Egypt
The “White Desert” in Egypt is known for its wind-shaped chalk rock formations made of white limestone, some of the rarest landscapes and geological formations in Egypt, covering less than 1% of the Egyptian Sahara.
Here, you can find dinosaurs fossils and remnants of other species that have been left here after an ice age that occurred 30 million years ago.
About 126 km northeast of the White Desert, you’ll find the “Black Desert”, where hundreds of black powder-covered hills form the Alien landscape. The black powder is due to volcanic activity during the Jurassic Period.
In 2002, the desert was recognised as a Natural Protectorate by the Egyptian government and since then, all human development in or near the desert has been banned to preserve the area.
This also means that there are no tourism facilities in the area, but with a local Bedouin guide you can go on a camping trip where you stay warm by the camp fire and dream of distant planets in the night sky above you.
Danakil Depression, Ethiopia
If you’re looking for an inhospitable landscape, here you go. The sunken volcanic landscape of the northern part of the Afar Triangle in Ethiopia is full of acidic hot springs, bubbling lavas, salty sands and toxic vapors.
The Danakil Depression is the hottest place on Earth and also one of the lowest places on the planet (100 m below sea level). There is no rain for most of the year. The wet environments of the hot springs are being investigated to help understand how life might arise on other planets and moons.
Even though it seems nothing could survive here, microorganisms thrive among the region’s sulfuric pools and mineral chimneys!
You might also know this location where in 1974, archaeologists found the famous Australopithecus fossil Lucy, which has been dated 3.2 million years old. Or maybe you don’t. My dad is an archaeologist, so that’s why this facts was exciting to me, haha!
MOON LANDSCAPES IN THE MIDDLE EAST
Wadi Rum, Jordan
The UNESCO World Heritage site of Wadi Rum in Southern Jordan has an incredible landscape of cliffs, gorges, caverns, natural arches, and Mars-like red sand.
This valley (“wadi” in Arabic) is cut into the sandstone and granite rock. Wadi Rum has been inhabited by many human cultures since prehistoric times. The combination of 25,000 rock carvings with 20,000 inscriptions trace the evolution of human thought and the early development of the alphabet.
Also known also as “Wādī al-Qamar”, or the “Valley of the Moon”, this is the place were space movies such as “Star Wars episode 9 – Rise of Skywalker” and “The Martian” starring Matt Damon were shot.
Spend the night at Sun City Camp in a real Martian Dome! Check best prizes on booking.com >
MOON LANDSCAPES IN ASIA
Dongchuan Red Land of Kunming, Yunnan, China
The Dongchuan District is one of seven districts of the city of Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province in China.
The area has become famous through photographers who discovered the unique local landscape and its Red Earth scenery. The soil is rich in iron and aluminum, with little organic matter, strong acidity and heavy clay.
You can capture the red fields just after ploughing and before the crops grow in Summer, or in Autumn.
The Stone Forest of Kunming, Yunnan, China
Another sight you don’t want to miss in the Yunnan region is the Stone Forest of Kunming, a notable set of limestone formations of about 500 square kilometers.
Since 2007, two parts of the site, the Naigu Stone Forest and Suogeyi Village have been UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The Stone Forest area was a shallow sea some 270 million years ago, but extensive deposits of sandstone overlain by limestone accumulated over time in the basin. Exposure to wind and running water shaped these limestone pillars into their current form.
The Stone Forest Scenic Region is open all year round. Try and avoid days with heavy rain (mostly between May and October).
Yehliu Geopark, Taipei, Taiwan
Yehliu Geopark, part of the Daliao Miaocene Formation in Northern Taiwan, is home to a number of unique geological formations.
The cape stretches around for 1700 meters and was formed as thousands of years of geological movement forced the Datun Mountains to change their shape, jutting out into the ocean.
A distinctive feature of the cape is the hoodoo stones that dot its surface. Many of them have been given distinct names, such as “Queen’s Head”, “Sea Candles”, “Fairy Shoe”, “Ginger Rocks”, “Elephant Rock”, “Ice Cream Rock”, “Kissing Rock” and “The Beehive”.
Have a close-up look at the hoodoos on the website of the geo park >>
MOON LANDSCAPES ON ANTARCTICA
The Antarctic Dry Valleys
The Antarctic Peninsula was formed by uplift and metamorphism of sea-bed sediments during the late Palaeozoic and the early Mesozoic eras. This was accompanied by igneous intrusions and volcanism during the Jurassic Period.
East Antarctica is geologically very old, dating from the Precambrian era, with some rocks formed more than 3 billion years ago!
The McMurdo Dry Valleys are a row of valleys west of McMurdo Sound and got their name because of their extremely low humidity and lack of snow and ice cover. They are considered to be the most ‘Mars-like’ environment on Earth and contain a range of features found on Mars in the past and today.
These include: a cold dry desert, sublimation polygons, gullies, cold-based
glaciers like those observed on Arsia Mons on Mars, crypto-endoliths (an organism that lives inside rock) and extremophiles (like we saw in Hawai and Australia already), high concentration of salts in soils and waters.
Antarctica is also useful for human mission testing and mission scenarios as carried out at the Concordia Research Station. Here studies are also conducted into glaciology, astronomy, human biology and medicine, habitat and Large Space Simulation (LSS) in extreme conditions, surface Extravehicular activity (EVA) in terrestrial gravity and confinement tests.
This site has been used by the NASA from January 2008 to February 2009 to test an inflatable habitat in an extreme environment.
Gaining access to Antarctica is, as you might expect, very difficult and achievable mainly by military aircraft or research vessels.
DISCOVER MORE SPACE EXPERIENCES ON EARTH >>