Deep in a Canadian lake, you will find a whole team of scientists busy studying the freshwater corals and analyzing how extraterrestrial life might look like. When you are stuck on Earth there is only so much you can do when it comes to researching extraterrestrial life – how can we possibly figure out the conditions faced on another planet? This is exactly why astrobiologists are extremely excited by their studies in the Pavilion Lake of British Columbia in Canada.
The Pavilion’s lake floor is covered in coral reef-like structures that are the aftermath of microbes and minerals interacting for millions of years. They are thought to date back around 11,000 years, they heavily resemble what was on Earth some 540 million years ago. It is the diversity of the different structures of the coral reef here that makes it so exciting to be researched. Some look like strange cauliflower florets or artichokes whereas others look like chimneys and have finger-like protrusions. Some of the coral clings down in deep trenches which makes it an eerie looking place and fascinating at the same time.
And the idea is quite simple, scientists are trying to figure out how life looked on Earth millions of years ago to give them a better idea of what to scan for on other planets like Mars. They are busy sampling the lake’s components such as the water, sediment, isotopes, and DNA from the little organisms themselves. Once their tests are completed it will be a great way to devise ways of determining life possibilities on future missions to Mars or other planets.
When NASA astrobiologists Chris McKay dived the lake of Pavilion he famously said he felt like he had walked back through the eons of time. Others have commented that the rocky towards look like stalagmites that should be in a cave and not found in a lake. The exploration of the lake is also quite difficult which makes it a crucial training ground for helping astronauts and researchers get ready for the hardships and tough conditions of deep space exploration.
NASA along with other international space teams regularly uses the lake to not only advance research but also to inform their employees about the major risks of space exploration. The challenges found while conducting a scientific exploration of the lake are something that will be found when humans do encounter other planetary bodies and solar systems.