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Italian Caves Enable Search for Life on Mars

The Frasassi Caves are not only a tourist attraction, but they are also a hotbed for scientific discovery.

Over 150 million years ago, a cave system was forming underneath the Italian soil. Today, those caves are now the largest subterranean cave system in Europe. They are known as the Frasassi Caves. 

Grotte di Frasassi

 

The Frasassi Caves, Le Grotte di Frasassi, are located in the Marche region of Eastern Italy, about 31 miles from the city of  Ancona. They were first discovered in 1971 by a 21-year-old mountaineer, Maurizio Bolognini. While climbing Monte Frasassi, he noticed a hole in the slope that was emitting cold air. When Bolognini stuck his head down the hole, he couldn’t see anything but darkness. Bolognini brought back a few friends to enlarge the hole, creating a tunnel that lead to the discovery of the caves.

Within the caves, there are five areas to explore. The main part of the cave, Abyss Ancona, houses two 65 foot tall stalagmites known as the Giants. The Abyss is so big, it could fit the entire Cathedral of Milan inside. Some other highlights of the tour include a cavern with stalagmites that resemble candles and a crystallized lake. Many of the formations have been named, like the Camel and the Sword of Damocles.

The Polar Bear

 

The public tour takes over an hour. There are two additional tours, Percorso Azzurro and Percorso Rosso, where visitors can crawl through tunnels and climb up rock faces to explore the caves more extensively. These tours are longer and require far more physical exertion than the main route.

The caves have not only been a source of interest for tourists but also scientists. In 2018, a group of American scientists visited the caves and discovered microscopic life forms deep inside the caves. These types of microbial organisms have developed and thrived with any light. These results were significant as they enable the search for life on Mars. The planet is covered with caves from volcanic activity, mimicking the environments in Frasassi. These findings allow scientists to perfect their techniques before exploring the caves on Mars. 

The Frasassi Caves are a vivid example of the natural beauty of nature and the surprising discoveries hidden in the dark. 

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