Scientists call for protection of geological, historical sites on other planets

SpaceX, a private American company founded by Elon Musk, has goal to send cargo to Mars in 2022

A Canadian scientist is calling for action to protect significant geological and historical features on the moon, Mars, and other planets.

Jack Matthews, of Memorial University of Newfoundland, says as nations and private companies increasingly explore and develop outer space, there’s a growing threat to extraterrestrial environments.

“A global agreement to protect the most important sites is needed before it’s too late,” he said Tuesday in an interview from Oxford, England.

Matthews, a post-doctoral fellow in Memorial’s Department of Earth Sciences, and Sean McMahon of the U.K. Centre for Astrobiology have just published a paper on the topic.

“The solar system holds billions of years’ worth of geological heritage,” said McMahon. “We owe it to future generations not to squander their inheritance.”

Matthews said that includes historical and cultural sites, including the Apollo 11 lunar landing site.

“There lies the first footprints ever made by a human on another celestial body. That footprint still exists there because there is no atmosphere on the moon, therefore there isn’t any wind. So that dusty footprint is still there, preserved on the surface of the moon.”

Matthews said with a number of countries and private companies actively preparing to send humans beyond Earth, now is the time to have the discussion and debate.

SpaceX, a private American company founded by Elon Musk, has a goal to send its first cargo mission to Mars in 2022.

The People’s Republic of China has initiated a manned spaceflight program, while the European Union, Japan, and India have also planned future crewed space missions.

The paper was released Tuesday in “Acta Astronautica,” a publication of the International Academy of Austronautics.

Matthews said their proposal wouldn’t stand in the way of exploration or resource development, but would protect places like Valles Marineris — known as the Mars version of the Grand Canyon.

“We wish to conserve very specific, important sites, that represent something either cultural or historic or educational or scientific, or even just aesthetic. There are wonderful landscapes that we have seen in photographs from the Curiosity rover and other rovers, that if they were on Earth would no doubt be national parks,” he said.

It’s expected that explorers to other planets will need to mine or otherwise extract the resources needed to provide water and rocket fuel for the return home, for habitation, or to continue further into the solar system.

Matthews said just because we can’t go to those sites at the moment doesn’t make them less worthy of protection.

He said the countries of the world came together to protect Antarctica through the Antarctic Treaty, and the same could be done to protect sites in space, and he hopes their paper will start the discussion.

Matthews said he envisions a governing body could be within or parallel to the United Nations.

He said existing protocols used to protect geological heritage on Earth could be used on other planets in what he’s calling exogeoconservation.

Matthews said it could take years to produce an agreement, so discussion and debate needs to start now.

Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Ladysmith Arts Council awarded $20K to develop public art strategy

The Arts Council of Ladysmith and District has been given $20,000 by… Continue reading

B.C. declares state of emergency as more than 560 wildfires rage

This is only the fourth state of emergency ever issued during a fire season

Naloxone workshop in Chemainus gives people the tools to deal with an overdose situation

Community paramedic provides valuable information amid growing opioid crisis

Police, muni on site of break-in at pump station

Investigation being conducted but no public safety concern, officer says

Happy birthday Boler: An anniversary gathering of the cutest campers in Winnipeg

Hundreds of the unique trailers in Winnipeg to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Manitoba invention

Canada’s tax system unfairly favours wealthy, poll of CRA auditors suggests

Four of every five respondents think loopholes and tax credits built into the system benefit the rich

Banff’s Sunshine ski resort upset with proposed guidelines from Parks Canada

The plan would allow for more visitors but wouldn’t let Sunshine build additional facilities

Conditions improve for battling northwest B.C. wildfires, minister says

‘Self-evacuated’ people fleeing smoke advised to go home

UPDATED: B.C. matching Red Cross donations for victims of wildfires

Donations being taken by many organizations, BC Hydro waiving bills

Woodpecker goes out with a bang, starts grassfire in B.C. city

Untimely death of woodpecker causes power outage in Cawston

Communities on evacuation alert in many areas of B.C. as wildfires flare

Warning was issued for 583-square-kilometre blaze that has charred Fraser Lake to Fort St. James

UPDATE: Kelowna’s crying judge refuses to pull herself from case

Judge Monica McParland won’t pull herself off of case.

Most Read