Death Valley’s extreme weather, geology and alien looking plants, like the Devil’s Cornfield, have caused it to be called ‘other-worldly.’ Apparently, astrophysicists and scientists agree because that’s where they bring their space equipment for test drives.
This weekend, the public will have a rare opportunity to talk to these scientists, and to check out their space toys and experiments. Death Valley National Park, NASA’s Ames Research Center, the Jet Propulsion Lab, the Planetary Science Institute, and the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) are hosting the 4th Annual MarsFest, from Friday, March 10 through Sunday March 12. The event celebrates the connection between extreme environments on space and on Earth.
Death Valley has many of the same characteristics found on other planets, including life and micro-organisms that could be similar to life found on other worlds. Back in 2012, before it ever landed on Mars, The Mars Rover cruised the rugged terrain of a Death Valley formation now called “Mars Hill.” The same year, the rover was also test driven in another local extreme environment, Mono Lake, where scientists tested its ability to detect microscopic life in the tufa towers. Scientists have been using Death Valley as a laboratory and area of study for years.
Last year’s event drew more than 200 visitors to Death Valley National Park. This year, MarsFest goers will have the option of participating in field trips, an exposition where they can talk to scientists about their displayed gadgets, children’s programming, and lectures.
The SETI institute will be heavily featured at this year’s event. Contrary to popular belief, the agency does more than look for extraterrestrial life. It overseas research in astrobiology, exoplanets, and extreme environments on Earth, like Death Valley, says Rebecca McDonald, communications director for SETI in Mountain View.