Many of us have dreamt of planetary escape. To live out our childhood dreams of becoming an astronaut and exploring the unknown. Luckily, there are more than a few places on Earth that allow you to feel like you could be standing on a completely different planet. These places will truly make you question whether there really was a time when the Earth was ruled by aliens and extraterrestrial beings. We no longer have to dream of travelling to the Moon or to Mars, these 10 unearthly and awe-inspiring landscapes seem to be straight from outer space.
1. Kerlingarfjoll, Iceland
As a country, Iceland continually undergoes incredible amounts of volcanic activity. This volcanic activity has resulted in plentiful landscapes that look like they should belong on another planet. Kerlingarfj?ll is one of such phenomenon. The sulphur filled mountains of Kerlingarfj?ll are located on the Central Highlands among an active volcanic system. Kerlingarfj?ll is famous for its picturesque mountains crowned with glaciers where snow and ice meet rising towers of steam (1). The minerals that emerge from the surrounding hot springs paint the ground with vivid reds, yellows and greens. As the daylight changes the mountains follow form, creating a truly remarkable atmosphere. The area is rightfully one of Iceland’s most captivating geothermal areas and has been featured in numerous films including “Alien” and its prequel “Prometheus” (1).
2. Death Valley, California
Death Valley is situated in southeast California. The harsh rocky terrain of the valley spans over 140 miles (3). Death Valley has been used as the base for extensive NASA research and testing over recent decades. The locations’ ancient rock layers and sparse desert landscape have been used to simulate how to handle the homogeneous terrain that is present on planet Mars. A popular tourist attraction all year round, Death Valley capitalises on its similarity with our neighbouring planet Mars by holding an annual festival called MarsFest. Scientists and engineers congregate at MarsFest to discuss with the public the similar relationship between Death Valley and Mars (2).
3. Wadi Rum, Jordan
Wadi Rum is an unusual landscape where mountains of granite and sandstone rise next to the valley filled with rosy red sand. The landscape is so alien it’s been nicknamed the “Valley of the Moon”. Wadi Rum is a UNESCO natural and cultural world heritage site. The valley of Wadi Rum has witnessed more than 12,000 years of human occupation, with over 25,000 rock carvings and 154 archeological sites offering an insight into the evolution of pastoral and agricultural activity in the area (4). The awe-inspiring mountains, red sandy valley, and sandstone arches undoubtedly give off the feeling of being in outer space.
4. Eye of Sahara, Africa
In the middle of the Sahara Desert lies the Richat Structure, or more commonly known as the Eye of Sahara. As one of the world’s greatest mysteries, the Eye of Sahara has continued to fascinate researchers and scientists from all over the world. The formation was accidentally discovered by astronauts while they were taking photos of the desert. Initially, it was believed that the unusual geological formation was the site of a meteorite impact. This belief stemmed from its enormous 30-mile diameter. However, researchers came to the conclusion that the formation is the result of a mountainous dome-shaped elevation that was exposed to wind erosion, created over time by Mother Nature (5). This theory still holds some uncertainties and the Eye of Sahara remains a mystery with numerous myths and hypotheses revolving around it.
5. Lake Vostok, Antarctica
Located in the South Pole in East Antarctica, Lake Vostok is one of the biggest subglacial lakes on Earth. The 143 miles long and 2,600 feet deep lake is buried beneath more than 2 miles of ice that is estimated to have covered the lake for over 15 million years (7). When the lake was sealed from the outside world with no access to light or the atmosphere it was made one of the most extreme environments on the planet. In 2012 scientists drilled into the previously untouched waters of Lake Vostok in an expedition to uncover if the freshwater lake could have creatures living in the darkness and the extreme cold. They found that the lake contained microbes and multicellular organisms (6). This discovery gave light to the idea that life can be found in the similarly extreme environment of Mars.
6. Lassen Volcanic National Park, California
Have you just walked into alien badlands in outer space or are you just in the Painted Dunes of Lassen Volcanic National Park in California? This otherworldly landscape is comprised of breathtaking multicoloured pumice fields. Geologists have uncovered that the red and orange dunes were formed as a consequence of the oxidation of volcanic ash after a volcanic eruption in the 1650s (8). This remote national park is home to snow-covered volcanic peaks, vibrant geothermal areas, wildflower meadows, lava beds, and other eccentric geological features that’ll take you to another planet.
7. Salar De Uyuni, Bolivia
Salar De Uyuni, located in Bolivia is the world’s largest salt flat. This UNESCO natural Heritage site was formed after a prehistoric lake vanished eons ago and left behind a flat crystal landscape of white salt, rock formations, and cacti-studded islands (9). At certain times of the year, nearby lakes overflow and a thin layer of water transform the salt flats into a beautiful canvas reflecting the sky above, making it another vista on Earth that looks like a scene from outer space. In addition to tourism, this otherworldly terrain also serves as a profitable worksite for the extraction of salt and lithium.
8. Lake Natron, Tanzania
Lake Natron is situated in Tanzania were temperature and pH levels are extremely high, fostering the perfect environment for the eponymous host mineral, natron. The lake has a pH of 10.5, which has been harmful to certain animals and has been said to turn them to ‘stone’ due to calcification and preservative nature (10). The temperature of the shallow lake’s water can reach 140 degrees Fahrenheit and is salty enough to poison most animals, making the lake simultaneously treacherous and beautiful – just like space. The water of the lake is crusted with reds, pinks and oranges from salt-loving organisms and algae.
9. Valle de la Luna, Chile
In Chile’s Atacama Desert lies Valle de la Luna. This phenomenal valley is made up of landscapes of dunes, rugged mountains and imposing rock formations. This almost extraterrestrial valley is often referred to as the Valley of the Moon, named after its lunar-like landforms eroded by eons of flood and wind (11). With an impressive range of colour and textures, stone formations, and petrified salt and sand that floods and winds have moulded to its way, this place is sure to make you feel like you might just be walking the surface of the moon.
10. Len?óis Maranhenses National Park, Brazil
A vista truly unlike any other on planet earth. Len?óis Maranhenses National Park is located in Brazil’s north Atlantic coast The perfectly-shaped sand dunes in the vast desert panorama, immersed in clear and fresh water, will take you to another world. This national park is a vast array of desert sands stretching more than 1550 sq km (12). However, between May to September rain filters through the sand and forms thousands of crystal-clear pools and lakes between the desert dunes. The varying contrast of the desert sands and freshwater pools provides an alien-like charm.