Many visitors to Namibia describe their experiences in the Namib Desert as ‘out of this world’ and they aren’t far wrong.
Recent photographs, released by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, show the Curiosity Mars rover photographing a sand dune on the red planet that is sure to remind Namibians instantly of home. The space agency has duly named this large shape-shifting hunk of sand the ‘Namib dune’, and it has the distinction of being the first ever extra-terrestrial sand dune to receive their attention.
The harsh landscapes of Mars are so similar to that of the Namib World Heritage site, that NASA has named this section of our nearest universal neighbour, the ‘Windhoek Quadrant’, after an area in Namibia located 120km east of Walvis Bay along the Kuiseb River. Many of the sites uncovered in this region of Mars will be named after features of its earthly namesake.
That is not where the similarity ends however. The Windhoek Quadrant is the site of the Gobabeb Research and Training Centre, which has made valuable contributions to studies of life on other planets by investigating the basic lifeforms found surviving in the inhospitable conditions of the Namib Desert. In particular, the cyanobacteria found living in conditions which no other creature could survive, provide clues as to how an otherwise inhabitable planet could start to support basic lifeforms.
NASA has also found Gobabeb’s 50-year study of the desert dunes invaluable in determining how wind and other weather conditions affect the appearance and composition of sand dunes on Mars.
Due to similarities between the dunes of the Namib and those discovered on Mars, this Namibian landmark is considered analogous to Mars. The researchers have been instrumental in mimicking the conditions experienced in outer space in order to better determine how these dunes came into existence on Mars itself.
These remarkable parallels between an actual place on earth and one in outer space have raised many questions around beliefs about life on other planets, and focussed international attention firmly on the fascinating environments of Namibia.
So there you have it, the Namib Desert really does offer an ‘out-of-this-world’ experience, which is easily reached from the major centres, such as Windhoek. Plan your next trip now and see what all the fuss is about for yourself.
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