Capelinhos volcano has the potential to be a Mars exploration laboratory


“We were able to see Mars on Earth through the Capelinhos volcano,” said James Garvin in an interview with the Lusa agency via telephone, regarding the NASA expedition that used the volcano on the island of Faial to train the exploration of the landscape of Mars.

James Garvin spoke to Lusa as part of the celebrations of the 500th anniversary of the circumnavigation trip of Fernão de Magalhães, in which he will participate, on Wednesday, at 4:30 pm, live through a digital platform.

The GLEX-Global Exploration Summit initiative is a digital live streaming event and will feature several speakers in addition to James Garvin.

The expedition led scientists from the United States space agency (NASA), the United Kingdom and Portugal to study the volcano that was born from the sea in the late 1950s, under conditions very similar to those that would have occurred on Mars a billion years ago .

James Garvin, who headed NASA’s scientific department between 2004 and 2005, said the Capelinhos volcano is “absolutely important” for planetary science and an “open book” for scientists.

“There are very few places on Earth where we can see a volcanic system from birth to its later stage of life. The Capelinhos volcano was the first that scientists from several countries studied so carefully”, noted the chief scientist from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

For the scientist, the Capelinhos volcano should be “used as a laboratory” allowing to study the volcanic system on Mars to see if “maybe there are” ancient records of life on that planet.

“The Capelinhos volcano, its rocks and its history are important for Mars,” said James Garvin, who is now leading the DAVINCI + mission, one of four selected investigations from NASA’s Discovery Program.

The mission, a tribute to Renaissance artist and scientist Leonardo da Vinci, has the Venus planetary course, “a piece of planet art”, characterized James Garvin.

Although the USA has not studied the atmosphere of Venus since 1978 (the year of the last ‘in situ’ mission to Venus), the scientist believes that it is “a matter of time”.

“We needed to look at Venus to see our own destiny and that’s why we want to go back. People need to go back to connect Venus with Earth,” he said.

Asked how it would be possible to connect two apparently different planets, James Garvin said he believed “Venus may have had oceans with liquid water like Earth billions of years ago”.

“We haven’t been able to prove it, that’s why we need to go back there, with a sophisticated spacecraft to discover,” said the scientist, adding that Venus may be “an absent ingredient” in planetary studies.

“What if Venus had life? What if Venus is a missing link in how the planet evolved and moved from the world of the oceans, like Earth, to worlds that are not like that?”, He asked.

To try to answer these and other questions, the DAVINCI + mission intends to analyze the atmosphere of Venus and understand how it “formed and evolved”.

As for the challenges that a mission to Venus poses, James Garvin emphasized that the key is “to choose the best engineering” and “to be intelligent, innovative and creative”.

“When we go to Venus we have to have special engineering and technology to be prepared for challenges that we cannot confront and that we cannot defeat. If we are capable of that, then we can go anywhere,” he said.

He added, “Venus could be an example that we can explore the most difficult places in space. If we send humans to the Moon, if we send robots to Mars, then we will also be able to send a robotic spacecraft to Venus.”


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