Creating a geological Babel fish

Credits: ESA–L. Ricci

Credits: ESA–L. Ricci

“Basin-related tectonism is due to lava infilling and load induced lithospheric inflection”
“Shock deformation of quartz crystals is a clear indication of an impact. Earth processes cannot produce such products”

Geologists speak gibberish, or at least you might think that when you hear them discuss amongst themselves.

Yet, these days I have witnessed a high level of interaction between the planetary scientists and Pangaea and the astronaut trainees.

I like to think of Pangaea as a planetary geology Babel fish, the “universal translator that enables species in the Universe to talk to each other across language boundaries”.

Credits: ESA–M. Bernabei

Credits: ESA–M. Bernabei

We will need clear interaction when our astronauts visit other planets. They will be the observers, and witness the ancient geological past of our Solar System, and they will need to describe what they see to geologists back on earth, and decide, with expert advice, which samples to pick and return to Earth. Their language will need to describe as accurately as possible the geological features they see. Their training needs to allow them to decide where the most representative and diverse samples will be, which rocks to turn, to cut, to analyse on site or to carry back to Earth for more analysis.

Credits: ESA–L. Ricci

Credits: ESA–L. Ricci

As an ESA training expert, my role has been to work with the scientists at transforming and downscaling scientifically-solid university educations into sizeable, progressive pieces of instruction. To translate cryptic geological gibberish into easily understandable, yet succinct language. To identify examples and analogies that speak to the brilliant, yet geologically untrained mind of astronauts.

Credits: ESA–L. Ricci

Credits: ESA–L. Ricci

It worked! Pangaea trainees have been attentive, interactive, critical and motivated. They are now capable of describing sedimentary and igneous geological features, to identify and categorise rocks, and they are ready for the intense field training which awaits them in Lanzarote, our Mars stand-in, in just one month.

The Pangaea Babel fish deserves praise, and so do the instructors, who have openly welcomed feedback and extensively reworked their lessons to make this an excellent training for scientific operational planetary exploration.

 

Loredana Bessone, Pangaea  project leader

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