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

Charges upgraded against mother of murdered Langley girl

Kerryann Lewis now faces first- rather than second-degree murder in the death of Aaliyah Rosa.

WATCH: Farm Country Brewing in Langley City expected to open in summer

Farm Country Brewing is currently under construction and is planned to open in summer 2019.

LETTER: Langley letter writer takes jabs at mayor’s jersey choice

A sports fan chides Langley City’s mayor for sporting an Oilers jersey in Canucks country.

LETTER: Local Liberal MP challenges letter writer’s facts on immigration

The local MP makes the distinction between asylum seekers, immigrants and refugees.

Dr. Keith Lamont, founder of Langley Community Music School, passed away at age 89

Dr. Keith Lamont’s funeral service is on Jan. 20 at the Langley Community Music School

VIDEO: U.S. Congress to probe whether Trump told lawyer Cohen to lie

At issue is a BuzzFeed News report that about negotiations over a Moscow real estate project

Rookie Demko backstops Canucks to 4-3 win over Sabres

Young Vancouver goalie makes 36 saves to turn away Buffalo

UPDATE: Injured firefighter in stable condition

Kelowna fire crews responded to a blaze at Pope’sGallery of BC Art & Photography on Friday

Book a ride on a driverless shuttle in Surrey or Vancouver

Automated vehicle demos are being offered, as the two cities plan pilot projects with the shuttles

Heavy snowfall expected on the Coquihalla

Snowfall warning in effect for the Coquihalla Highway, from Hope to Merritt

Rare ‘super blood wolf moon’ takes to the skies this Sunday

Celestial event happens only three times this century

Arrest made after historic B.C. church hit by arson

The fire at the 150-year-old Murray United Church in Merritt was considered a possible hate crime

Missing man from Crowsnest Pass could be in Lower Mainland

58-year-old Stuart David Duff was last seen on Jan. 6, 2019.

B.C. dangerous offender in court for violating no-contact order, sends letter to victim

Wayne Belleville was shocked to see a letter addressed to him from his shooter, Ronald Teneycke

Most Read