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  Sailing to a New World from the Rio Tinto

by Michelle Mock

In 1492, Christopher Columbus set sail for the New World from Palos de la Frontera near the mouth of the Rio Tinto on the southern coast of Spain.  Today, scientists embark on a journey to another "new world", an amazing red sphere know as the planet Mars.

Columbus and his crew embarked on a long journey into the unknown and proved the hypothesis that the Earth was not flat.  He might have looked up at the planet Mars and hypothesized that Mars was also a round sphere.  He might have wondered if there was life up there, just as he could have wondered what life he would find on his voyage.  The environment and the "life" that he found was similar but not exactly what he was familiar with in Europe.

Christopher Columbus guarding the Río Tinto
© Michelle Chaplow

In much the same way, scientists on Earth wonder what they might find on their expeditions to Mars.  Among the many things they wonder about Mars, they are curious to find out if there is life there, and if so, what kind of life.  So, they have gone back to the Río Tinto.  Why go there?

The Río Tinto is what scientists call an analog for Mars.  There are many things about this river that are like Mars and the places the scientists are looking at are not the kind of place that you would want to go to do water sports on your summer vacation!  The river has a red wine color because of all the dissolved minerals it carries.  It was thought to be a dead place where no life could possibly exist.  But guess what?!  Just like the people who thought the Earth was flat, they were wrong!  Life does exist and flourish there.  It isn't exactly the kind of life that people were used to, but it exists.

If you are a little bit curious about this river and why scientists are studying it with so much excitement, take a peak at the webcasts from the Rio Tinto.  The live webcasts, produced by NASA's Robotics Education Project started Monday, September 29th and will continue through October 17th.  These webcasts, along with English and Spanish transcriptions, will be archived each day.

Read more about today's versions of the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa María -- the Odyssey, the Spirit and the Opportunity -- at:

Send your questions about the Rio Tinto, Mars exploration and Christopher Columbus to: Imagiverse - Ask The Expert

Del Río Tinto al Nuevo Mundo

- 29 September 2003


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Last Updated:
7 October 2003

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