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Is there life on Mars?


Saint-Gobain’s Bantycock gypsum quarry, near Newark, chosen for ‘DEEPER’ Mars exploration

SPACE exploration is constantly in the news headlines at present and now the team at Saint-Gobain’s Bantycock gypsum quarry, near Newark, is excited to be playing its part. The quarry’s 204-million-year-old gypsum deposits are proving ideal for testing out a new experimental drill rig which will be part of the investigation into whether there is water on Mars.

Bantycock is the perfect location as it is the only surface mining gypsum operation in the UK capable of providing the opportunity to drill through gypsum deposits. The European Space Agency is working with the University of Glasgow and others on the ‘DEEPER’ project – the Drill for Extensive Exploration of Planetary Environments using Robots.


The gypsum in Bantycock Quarry is a hydrated mineral that provides a realistic environment which could be similar to that on Mars. Minerals like those found at the quarry were discovered by a 2004 NASA expedition to Mars – which uncovered bright veins of a mineral, apparently gypsum.

Gypsum is a sulphate, formed through the evaporation of water. Its discovery on Mars supports the idea that water once flowed across and under its surface, and where there is water, there is the potential for life.

But the water or ice the space experts are looking for could be many metres below the surface. Given that the rocket will not be able to carry a drill bit that is tens of metres long, the University of Glasgow team has been developing a drill ‘string’ which rolls off a spool and works in a similar way to a tape measure.

Patrick Harkness from the University of Glasgow said: ‘We have been working on a drill architecture that can be deployed to a considerable depth, but also one that can be spooled up into a smaller package for delivery to the surface of the planet. That reduces the overall size of the mission and reduces the cost accordingly. The rock at Bantycock provides us with some Mars-like conditions that will allow us to see how well the device might perform, and what we might need to improve.’

Jeremy Elvins, minerals and estates manager with Saint-Gobain, added: ‘We are delighted that we can help test out this very special drill by offering part of Bantycock Quarry as a test bed. It is great that we can play a small part in progressing Mars exploration and contribute to the understanding of whether there is or has been life on Mars.’


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