School is also back in session for ESA astronaut Andrea Mogensen (right) and NASA astronaut Kathleen Rubins. Together with European Astronaut Centre engineer Robin Eccleston (far left), the trio are taking part in this year’s Pangaea field training campaign to become better field scientists.
With all eyes set on the Moon, the three-week campaign has increasingly focussed on lunar geology. Now in its fourth edition, the course kicked off this week with background lessons by top planetary scientists on identifying rock samples of interest for exploration.
In this image Andreas and his fellow students use a microscope to analyse samples.
Later, the class went on a field trip to the Bletterbach canyon in the Italian Dolomites. The eight-km long and 400-m deep gorge contains around 10 billion tonnes of rock transported to the valley since the end of the glacial age, around 18 000 years ago.
The gorge is the result of sedimentary processes quite similar to those found on Mars and is an ideal site to put classroom knowledge into practice.
In later sessions, the trainees will also visit the Ries Crater in Germany and the volcanic landscapes of Lanzarote, Spain, to unravel not only lunar but also martian features on Earth. They will use more sophisticated tools that will allow them to explore their geography from the microscopic to the macroscopic level.
The participants will wear a virtual reality headset to immerse themselves in a real martian landscape. Together with images and dozens of 3D maps, the trainees will see a combination of ground truth information and satellite images with the PLANetary MAPping project (PLANMAP) running behind the scenes.