Chott El Jerid is a salt-encrusted seasonal lake in southwestern Tunisia. The Europlanet project, a consortium of universities devoted to finding earthly environment similar to other planets and moons, has designated the area an earthbound Mars.

Chott El Jerid's otherworldly credentials are unsurprising, as George Lucas used the area as a stand-in for Tatooine in Star Wars. The area has a high iron content and a concentration of chloride salts akin to the Martian surface. Says Dr Felipe Gómez of Madrid's Centro de Astrobiología:

We will be studying the similarities between Chott el Jerid Desert and mineral deposits on the surface of Mars. From an astrobiological point of view, it is extremely interesting to examine the biological cycles at a site with such low and salty water levels. We are going to be using geophysical sounding techniques to produce detailed three-dimensional maps of the sub-surface water, the geology and the biological distribution at the site. These will help us gain a detailed understanding of the processes that control the geology of the habitat and how this in turn controls the biology. We will also bring samples back to the laboratory to catalogue the biology at the different sub-habitats.

Chott el Jerid isn't the only site Europlanet is checking out. They're prepping other analogous Martian sites at the Popigai crater in Siberia, Rio Tinto in Spain and Ibn Battuta in Morocco. In addition, Svalbard, Norway is being considered as a stand-in for Europa, and Siberia's Kamchatka Peninsula is being assessed as a facsimile for the surfaces of Titan, Europa, Mars, and for the surface of ancient, prebiotic Earth.

[Via Europlanet. Photos via Flickr.]

[Nicky Perry]


[Sandro Marcuso]

[Sandro Marcuso]

[Panegyrics of Granovetter]

[L'occhio di elbaeumberto]