Devon Island: One of the Most Mars-like Places on Earth

A concept spacesuit for future Mars exploration undergoing a field test at "Mars On Earth" on Devon Island is shown in this undated handout image.
A concept spacesuit for future Mars exploration undergoing a field test at "Mars On Earth" on Devon Island is shown in this undated handout image.
Photo Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS / HO-NASA HMP – Pascal Lee

Nicknamed “Mars on Earth,” Devon Island is found in Nunavut in Canada’s Arctic and is Earth’s largest uninhabited island. There is a good reason nobody lives here – this desolate place features a polar-desert climate and barren, treacherous terrain. The plateau is often veiled by fog. Deep canyons and a large crater made from a meteorite impact mark the landscape. These factors make Devon Island unlivable. They also make Devon Island the closest thing to the red planet that can be found on Earth and explored by scientists.

Haughton Crater is a well-preserved impact site 20 km (12.4 mi) wide, hit by an asteroid or comet 1 km (0.6 mi) in diameter nearly 23 million years ago. Such an impact would have wiped out all life forms for hundreds of kilometers. The cold and dry climate of Devon Island has kept the crater in excellent condition and is, in fact, one of the best-preserved impact sites on Earth. When compared to the even more perfectly preserved impact structures on Mars, scientists can infer that Mars has likely always been cold and dry, rather than warm and wet in the planet’s early history.

Haughton Crater on Devon Island, Nunavut, Canada.
Haughton Crater on Devon Island, Nunavut, Canada.

Astronaut Canyon is very similar to the large, V-shaped canyons that are found on Mars. In past ice ages, Astronaut Canyon was covered with large sheets of ice. Near the edges, ice cut deep into the bedrock beneath, and glaciers carved a deep trough valley. The Valles Marineris canyon system on Mars may have been carved in a similar way.

The ground on Devon Island features many different geometric patterns, in what is known as patterned ground. Patterned ground indicates that the ice in the ground is thawing and freezing, and is also seen on Mars.

Many other aspects of Devon Island are also found on the red planet, making it the perfect place for researchers with NASA’s Haughton-Mars Project (HMP) to learn how to explore Mars in the future.

NASA's "baby-rovers" taking pictures on Devon Island, Nunavut, Canada.
NASA’s “baby-rovers” taking pictures on Devon Island, Nunavut, Canada.

For more information, follow the newly released Google Earth guided tour of Devon Island and NASA’s facilities or watch the short film below: