Planetary habitability: lessons learned from terrestrial analogues

Preston, L.J. and Dartnell, L. 2014. Planetary habitability: lessons learned from terrestrial analogues. International Journal of Astrobiology. 13 (1). doi:10.1017/S1473550413000396

TitlePlanetary habitability: lessons learned from terrestrial analogues
TypeJournal article
AuthorsPreston, L.J. and Dartnell, L.
Abstract

Terrestrial analogue studies underpin almost all planetary missions and their use is essential in the exploration of our Solar system and in assessing the habitability of other worlds. Their value relies on the similarity of the analogue to its target, either in terms of their mineralogical or geochemical context, or current physical or chemical environmental conditions. Such analogue sites offer critical ground-truthing for astrobiological studies on the habitability of different environmental parameter sets, the biological mechanisms for survival in extreme environments and the preservation potential and detectability of biosignatures. The 33 analogue sites discussed in this review have been selected on the basis of their congruence to particular extraterrestrial locations. Terrestrial field sites that have been used most often in the literature, as well as some lesser known ones which require greater study, are incorporated to inform on the astrobiological potential of Venus, Mars, Europa, Enceladus and Titan. For example, the possibility of an aerial habitable zone on Venus has been hypothesized based on studies of life at high-altitudes in the terrestrial atmosphere. We also demonstrate why many different terrestrial analogue sites are required to satisfactorily assess the habitability of the changing environmental conditions throughout Martian history, and recommend particular sites for different epochs or potential niches. Finally, habitable zones within the aqueous environments of the icy moons of Europa and Enceladus and potentially in the hydrocarbon lakes of Titan are discussed and suitable analogue sites proposed. It is clear from this review that a number of terrestrial analogue sites can be applied to multiple planetary bodies, thereby increasing their value for astrobiological exploration. For each analogue site considered here, we summarize the pertinent physiochemical environmental features they offer and critically assess the fidelity with which they emulate their intended target locale. We also outline key issues associated with the existing documentation of analogue research and the constraints this has on the efficiency of discoveries in this field. This review thus highlights the need for a global open access database for planetary analogues

JournalInternational Journal of Astrobiology
Journal citation13 (1)
ISSN1473-5504
Year2014
PublisherCambridge University Press
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)doi:10.1017/S1473550413000396
Publication dates
Published03 Jan 2014

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