VANCOUVER — One of the most Mars-like environments on Earth, Devon Island in the Canadian High Arctic, is now on the map and can be explored on Google Street View.
This largest uninhabited island on Earth is a rocky polar desert that has a surface and conditions similar to the red planet, said Pascal Lee, chairman of the Mars Institute and director of the Haughton-Mars Project, a field research project on Devon Island that’s funded by NASA.
“There are not many places like this,” Lee said of the island roughly the size of Nova Scotia in Baffin Bay, Nunavut.
“It’s the biggest stretch of terrain that is barren, rocky and cold and dry … So right there it’s a big piece of real estate that has similar climate to Mars.”
Since 1997, the remote land mass has been the site of field deployments by scientists and astronauts looking to learn more about the moon and Mars.
Last summer, Lee and a team of researchers set out to generate a panorama of some of the sites most frequented by scientists. They used GoPro cameras to get 360-degree “photo spheres” and smartphones to capture video footage.
The result, published last Monday by Google Street View, puts the team “on the map” and shares their experience with the rest of the world, Lee said.
“The unbelievable thing is that pretty much every step you take as soon as you are away from our camp, you’re probably the first person to ever walk there,” he said.
“There is something amazing about that still, to be able to do that — to see views and landscapes that from your particular perspective no one has seen before. Nobody.”
But despite its remoteness, the place is seeing effects of climate change, he said.
In the quarter of a century that Lee has been visiting the area, he’s seen places that previously were covered in ice but are now barren.
“We’re now seeing landscape exposed from under the ice in millennia,” he said. “So this is land that hasn’t seen daylight in 12,000 years.”
The island is also used as a training ground for astronauts, including Canadian Jeremy Hansen, who accompanied a research team studying craters in the area in July 2013.
Part of his mission was “to learn methods and techniques for conducting geological fieldwork that could be applied to future missions,” according to the Canadian Space Agency’s website.
“Any time you go to the moon or an asteroid or eventually Mars, geology is going to be an important part of the science that we do on those surfaces,” Hansen said in a video posted to the agency’s website.
“Both to understand the history of our own planet and the solar system but also to understand resources that we might utilize on the surfaces of those planets.”
Katja Minitsenka, a program manager with Google, said in a video that her team took seven flights to get to Devon Island.
She hopes the new “street” views inspire people to study other planets, she said.
Hina Alam, The Canadian Press