Life on Mars recreated in Oman

The Dhofar desert in Oman is the latest setting for a series of experiments that may one day lead us to land on Mars, Abdul Aziz reports.  

With its great expanse of flat brown desert, lack of greenery and searing temperatures, the Dhofar desert in Oman could be the scene of a futuristic space movie.

In fact it’s the setting of a modern-day experiment funded by the Austrian Space Forum and aiming to stimulate life on Mars. Over 200 scientists from 25 nations are working on the project.

In recent weeks, 16 astronauts of different nationalities have been conducting 19 experiments, which it’s hoped will provide vital information that could bring them one step closer to surviving on Mars.

An inflatable greenhouse has been constructed on this barren landscape, chosen because of its resemblance to the ‘red planet’ and the astronauts will use a drone and travel in robotic rovers, whilst wearing the most up-to-date spacesuits.

“On a typical day they will make trips into the desert in the early morning before taking a break,” explains Omar Al-Hosani, an assistant at the Oman Astrological Society, which has part-funded the project.

“The scientists then wait until sunset when the temperature is lower and therefore more conducive to doing experiments outside,” he adds.

While the experiments will continue for a total of 28 days, each scientist will spend 20 days in isolation at a time in preparation for the first man-made trip to Mars. This is expected to take place in 2030, although there is another trip scheduled for 2025 which will have no humans onboard.    

This is not the first time such an experiment has taken place. Similar activities have taken place in Hawaii and Antarctica in the past and more recently in Morocco, Austria and Spain.

“Oman was chosen on this occasion because of its geographical similarities with Mars.”

“It has the same desert-like land with a lack of greenery and animals living there. However it also has rock formations that are similar to those found on Mars. It’s perfect for such an experiment.”

A number of government bodies in Oman have also contributed to the funding of the Omani Mars simulation project. These include the Ministry of Tourism, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Omani radio and TV authorities.

Further funding has also been provided by the Oman Astrological Society and the Sultan Qaboos University. Some students from the university have been allowed to observe a number of the experiments.

“In general, the people in Oman have been delighted to welcome scientists from around the world for the Mars simulation project,” says Mr Al-Hosani. “Let’s face it: this is the future and it’s exciting that we can be part of it in small way.”    

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