|Purpose:||This project entitled «Astrobiology Training in Lava Tubes (ATILT)» will provide realistic science training in lava tube caves that are high fidelity analogs of Mars lava tubes. In the project, instruments will be used to remotely locate and characterize lava tube caves, to identify and characterize secondary minerals and ice inside the caves, and to identify cold-adapted microbial communities and microbial biosignatures. This project is critical to developing a mission to explore Martian lava tubes.
The study of basaltic caves and lava tubes on Earth informs us about the diversity and resilience of microbial life and how traces of such life are recorded in mineral deposits that could have formed on Mars. By analogy, basaltic caves on Mars may contain a record of secondary mineralization providing precious information on past aqueous activity. Such caves may also provide the best evidence for past life in the form of biomarkers (chemical, isotopic or morphogenic) preserved in the cave minerals. Where they exist, lava cave may be a key target for possible life on all rocky solar system objects.