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

Masset dodges empty-ballot bullet

After an extended deadline, Masset now has enough candidates for council

Sunny skies for Terry Fox Run

Queen Charlotte and Masset runs raise nearly $3,000 for cancer research

Masset short on council candidates, other communities okay

Nominations deadline for Masset council extended to 4 p.m. Monday

Fishing boat ‘Haida Legend’ sinks off Langara Island

All crew rescued by nearby sport fishers, boat was re-fitted in late 2016

Last day to run for Oct. 20 election

Candidates have until 4 p.m. today to file nomination packages

Canning sockeye by hand in North Coast B.C.

Arnie Nagy teaches the Northern View how to can salmon in Prince Rupert

Abdelrazik torture lawsuit delay would be unconscionable: lawyer

The federal government is making a last-minute plea to delay the Federal Court hearing

Trudeau upset after meeting with Saskatchewan chiefs

Trudeau is upset about how time was managed in a recent meeting

B.C. tent city ‘devastated’ after flash flood

Maple Ridge mayor says that residents shouldn’t have to return to their flooded tents

Filipino-Canadians concerned about family after typhoon hits Philippines

Typhoon Mangkhut has killed 66 people in the Philippines and four in China

Ottawa looks at having retired judge help guide renewed pipeline review process

The feds would only says that ‘multiple options were on the table’

Canada bans use of trans fats in food products

Trans fats are know to cause heart disease

Yukon suspect in B.C. mail bombing makes court appearance

Whitehorse man Leon Nepper faces charges related to a mail bomb sent to a Port Alice home Sept. 11

Nearly 80% of British Columbians support a ban on handguns in cities

86% support a ban on military-style assault weapons

Most Read