- Associated Press - Thursday, August 13, 2015

ARCO, Idaho (AP) - Idaho State University and NASA are collaborating on research that may help scientists find life on other planets and improve radar to land rovers more safely on Mars.

Two teams are researching lava flows at the Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve in central Idaho, the Idaho State Journal reported (http://bit.ly/1J6faLz).

“The rocks that we have at Craters are really similar to what we find on Mars,” said Shannon Kobs-Nawotniak, an assistant professor in geosciences at Idaho State. “It’s the closest you can get to being on Mars without leaving Earth.”

One section of research is meant to help improve radar so rovers can land more safely.

“Some of these surfaces look flat on radar but are actually some of the roughest basalt surfaces on Earth,” Kobs-Nawotniak said. “We don’t want to spend billions of dollars sending a rover up to Mars and then landing it on an inhospitable surface.”

Other research is being done examining how bacteria, viruses and other microbial life evolve in lava flows on Earth, which could help scientists find evidence of life on other planets.

The Idaho lava flows can also help scientists better understand lave flows on other planets, giving insights on how other planets might have formed.

NASA is paying for the research. Field tests started Aug. 1 and are continuing through Friday.

Next summer, NASA plans more tests meant to simulate Mars exploration. The experiment will include simulating as closely as possible a mission to Mars, including a control center, delayed communications and people dressed in space suits.

Besides Mars, NASA is also interested in using the information to better understand Mars’ two moons, Phobos and Deimos.

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Information from: Idaho State Journal, http://www.journalnet.com

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