Among our current projects at TTARC are several that focus on terrestrial Analog Research in the US, India, and elsewhere.
Analog Research in India (Siddarth Pandey, PhD – Director):
In the analog research in India, there are three main geographic regions are being studied for their potential to support astrobiology and habitability studies for future Mars exploration:
1. Ladakh: Ladakh is an arid, very high altitude (3500m-5600m above sea level) region in the Himalayas that hosts several diverse relevant environments, such as:
- Hot Springs: These host microbial life within a unique rock water chemistry, exposed to low oxygen and high ultraviolet radiation. Studying how life survives in these environments tells us about possible evolution of life on Early Mars.
- Hypersaline Lakes: We have seen several dried lake beds on Mars, which point towards moments in its history which could have hosted-salt loving microorganisms. These lakes in Ladakh serve as an organic sink of water from glaciers and streams that host a diverse variety of microorganisms.
- Permafrost and glacial melt pools: At very high altitudes (~5600m), these host organisms heavily exposed to dry, high UV and lowest atmospheric pressure environments.
2. Lonar Crater: One of only three known craters in basaltic rock, this crater in Central India is a direct analog to Jezero crater, the next landing site of NASA Mars Rover 2020. The delta fan on its rim has brought in thousands of years of organic sediments that have deposited within the crater, offering an opportunity to test rovers and drone systems to characterize the habitable potential of the crater. Ongoing field work to test exploration technologies will aid future Mars explorers looking for clues of life in Martian craters.
3. Kutch: This vast salt expanse has hypersaline pond systems that host several bacteria and other salt loving microorganisms. Jarosite, a mineral formed in similar conditions on Mars is also present. Several geomorphology and topography studies can be practiced in this region, along with microbial diversity studies in the soil crust and subsurface.
4. Indian Antarctic field station within Larsemann Hills: Plans are being put in place to study the ice-free regions of Larsemann that are geothermally heated and support various forms of microbial life in cold arid conditions. This helps develop experiment hypothesis for the search of extant or current life on Mars.
TTARC Director, India Operations
Siddharth Pandey, PhD
Head, Amity Space Centre and Centre of Excellence in Astrobiology, Amity University, India
TTARC Technical Advisory Council (TAC)