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The Neighbour

Production year: 2008 | 1*60 | Genres: Nature
Following the trace of the mysterious meteorite dust in Spitsbergen.
Origin country: Norway
Production company: NRK Norsk Rikskringkasting AS
Original title: Naboen
Original language: Norwegian
Formats: HD

Less than two years from now a highly sophisticated NASA robot will land on Mars. Its task will be to determine whether life exists on this, our neighbour planet. The result of this project may well turn our conception of the world on its head. An NRK team has accompanied 30 of the world's foremost experts on the Red Planet on a spectacular expedition to Spitsbergen, aimed at resolving a problem that has intrigued mankind for centuries.

Although it is more than 60 million kilometers from Earth, in one respect Mars is closer than is generally supposed. The landscape of Spitsbergen is so like that of Mars as to enable NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) to test on the island scientific equipment designed to determine once and for all whether there is life on Mars.

In August 2007 a 30-strong expedition set out for Spitsbergen. In the course of two weeks, the members of this expedition - astrobiologists, astronauts, robot engineers and geologists - explored fjords, climbed volcanoes and simulated a landing on Mars. They called themselves the 'Men in Black'.

The expedition was led by a Norwegian, Hans Amundsen. Amundsen came to the notice of NASA when he published an article in an international scientific magazine about some strange carbonate granules he had come across in a volcano on Spitsbergen. In 1984 a meteorite was found in the Antarctic. Subsequent examination revealed that it had come from Mars and contained carbonate granules akin to those recovered by Amundsen from Spitsbergen. No similar finds have been found anywhere else on earth.

Since contact was first established between Amundsen and NASA, each year since 2003 he has assembled his regular team of astrobiologists in Norway and on Spitsbergen. More, he has prevailed on the expedition's members to take with them to this cold, desolate and volcanic island dark suits and sunglasses, which is why they are known as the 'Men in Black'. The name derives from an eponymous film starring Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith in which the pair keep a watchful eye on extraterrestial activities on earth.

NASA and ESA have expended vast sums of money on preparations for expeditions to Mars. The first probe will be launched in 2009, which means that in a little under two years from now we may know the answer to that great and for so long unresolved question: Are we alone in the universe?

Among those most keenly interested in the answer are the world's major religions. They will have a lot of explaining to do if life does prove to exist, or to have once existed, elsewhere than on our own planet.

Bound for the wild and breathtakingly beautiful fjords of Spitsbergen is the research vessel Lance, with its priceless complement of space scientists, futuristic landing vehicles and sensitive instruments. Together with their specialist equipment the scientists are ferried ashore in rubber boats. There, while some members of the expedition, suitably armed, keep aggressive polar bears at bay, the others explore the virtually virgin terrain in search of ancient life forms - as, before long, will exploratory vehicles on Mars.

Will they find traces of life?

Still images

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