Ooh, Heaven Is a Place on Earth

If you've ever wanted to visit the extreme environments used as offworld training landscapes for future astronauts—where bleak, windswept, and often highly remote locations act as surrogates for the surfaces of other planets—a new guidebook will help you find them. Assembled for the European Space Agency by scientists at the Open University, The Catalogue of Planetary Analogues (PDF) is now available for download.

Current sites range from Tenerife, in the Canary Islands, to the island of Svalbard, and from Yellowstone National Park and the Antarctic Dry Valleys to multiple impact craters around the world. Each is described by the encyclopedic guide in terms of its geochemical and astrobiological relevance to non-terrestrial exploration, as well as noting if any "prior analogue usage" has occurred there.

Ooh, Heaven Is a Place on Earth

Cinder Lake, Arizona, a place I've had the pleasure of visiting, also made the guide. Cinder Lake, a short drive northeast of Flagstaff, is where NASA famously dropped bombs on an ancient cinder lake in order to recreate, to an astonishing degree of accuracy, the lunar crater field where Apollo astronauts would eventually land.

The guidebook is currently limited to locations that are either Martian or lunar in resemblance—such as the Black Point Lava Flow in Arizona, pictured at the start of this post—but future editions could very well include stand-ins for other worlds yet further afield.

So, if you've ever wanted to see where human beings go to pretend as if they're on other planets—breaking-in space suits, driving prototype rovers, and field-testing electronics in conditions so harsh they resemble other worlds—download a copy of the PDF and pack your bags. [New Scientist]

Top image courtesy of NASA Visible Earth. Center image shows NASA testing prototypes at Cinder Lake, Arizona. Photograph courtesy of NASA/USGS, from this PDF.