Earth is anything like life as we know it, it’ll find a way to populate even the most improbable landscapes. Here, volcanic lakes, acid pools, desiccated basins, and subterranean caverns are no match for biology. On Mars, or the icy moon Europa? Someday, we’ll know the answer.
To really learn about how life emerges, evolves, and flourishes‚ and to improve our chances of detecting it elsewhere in the solar system—scientists look for life in Earth’s harshest environments. That means going to the extremes—to the hottest, darkest, driest, most acidic, saltiest places on the planet—and seeing what’s there.
These environments in this gallery are among the closest we can get to alien worlds without actually going there. From the weird-looking Dragon’s Blood Trees on Socotra Island, off of Yemen, to the Cave of the Crystals in Mexico, we’ve found the world’s most otherworldly landscapes.
1. Socotra Island, off of Yemen, is home to the weird-looking Dragon’s Blood Tree. In fact, a third of its plant life isn’t found anywhere else on the planet.
Located in a Yemen archipelago, Scotra Island houses the sinister-sounding Dragon’s Blood Tree. About a third of the plant species growing here aren’t found anywhere else on earth, which makes it highly exotic and mysterious. Lots of visitors make their way here to capture images of this rare tree. Makes for a heady adventure smack in the middle of no man’s land.
2. Expansive fields of sulfuric ponds make the Danakil Depression in Ethiopia one of the most inhospitable places for human life on the planet.
The seemingly endless sulfuric ponds make Danakil Depression one of the planet’s most eerie and unwelcoming looking places. The place is pretty rough and sultry so visitors coming here must prepare in advance for the same. If you fancy being in the middle of no man’s land complete with salt flats, volcano sightings, camel caravans, and the likes, an organized tour may just be your thing.
3. The ominous Tianzi Mountains in China actually inspired Pandora’s floating mountains in “Avatar.”
The seriously ominous and scary looking Tianzi Mountains look like they’ve been created only to film a horror flick. It is also believed that these mountains inspired Avatar’s Pandora’s floating mountain ranges. A theme park based on the film has been created here and is proving to be a huge draw for tourists.
4. Ireland’s Giant’s Causeway consists of 40,000 super symmetrical volcanic rock columns — the extraterrestrial-looking result of an ancient volcanic eruption.
Ireland’s Giant’s Causeway comprises of 40,000 symmetrical rock formations resulting from volcanic activity. The extraterrestrial-like formations, located on one of the continent’s most rugged coastline, appear mystical and majestic and are known for its ferocious storms. Their rough and intriguing appearance never fails to stuns visitors strolling along the causeway. It is enough to help you do some time travel down several centuries. The Causeway Center also features a souvenir shop, along with audio-video presentation and accommodation booking.
5. Deadvlei in Namibia is an eerie, bone-dry expanse littered with dead, skeleton-like, Acacia Trees.
This is Namibia’s very own arid, dry patch of land sprinkled with innumerable Acacia trees that look like skeletons. The large white clay stretch is nestled in the Namib Naukluft Park. It is known to be encircled by some of the world’s loftiest sand dunes, going up to 300-400 meters. Deadvlei is also home to a considerable number of wild species for nature, wildlife, and adventure enthusiasts.
6. China’s brightly colored Zhangye Danxia mountains were formed by 27 million years of red sandstone erosion.
Formed as a result of erosion activity over the past 27 million years, this vibrantly colored mountainous sandstone region has captivated the imagination of visitors for visitors. It comprises several access roads, paths, and boardwalks to help tourists see the formations with ease. The government is constantly investing in facilities to make the destination more tourist-friendly.
7. The Richat Structure in Mauritania, also known as “The Eye of the Sahara,” is a 25-mile-wide dome that is thought to be the result of erosion… not an alien crash landing.
It is easy to mistake the 25-mile dome, formed as a result of erosion, for a crash landing by aliens. The circular structure located smack in the middle of the Sahara is also aptly known as The Eye of the Sahara. This perfect bull’s eye structure has attracted several geologists and explorers for its unusual appeal and appearance.
8. New Zealand’s ancient Waitomo Glowworm Caves are brightly lit thanks to ceilings covered in thousands of tiny glowworms.
Dating back over 30 million years, the Waitoma Caves continue to intrigue visitors with its glowworm lit, incandescent caves. It all started with the limestone creations originating from under the ocean and kept becoming deeper over the years. Take a boat tour to witness thousands of glowworms lighting up the cave with their luminescent appeal. Dazzling and magical, few destinations on earth will capture your imagination than this viral-worthy place that doing the rounds of Instagram and other social sites.
9. Red Beach in China is a sprawling wetland that gets its distinct hue from Sueda seaweed, which turns a vivid shade of crimson in the fall.
Red Beach is an expansive wetland that acquires its distinct shade from Suede seaweed turning a shade of bright crimson during fall. Nestled in Dawa County in Panjin, its fiery landscape comprises shallow seas and huge tidelands. The Panjin Shuangtaizi Riverbank is a state natural protected area, preserving one of the planet’s most complete ecosystems. Housing over 260 bird species and around 400 wild animals, the area is worth exploring for nature and wildlife enthusiasts.
10. Aptly named, the Door to Hell in Turkmenistan is a gaping, 226-foot-wide hole that was created in 1971, when a Soviet drilling rig collapsed into a natural gas cavern. It’s been burning ever since.
This 226-foot wide hole was made in 1971 due to the collapse of a huge Soviet rig into a gas cavern. The natural gas combined with the drilling rig to burn and has been incessantly burning since then. Its surrounding spots are very popular with visitors looking to camp in the midst of a wild desert.
11. The Devils Tower in Wyoming is a 1,267-foot-tall rock formation that was fittingly the site of the alien thriller “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”
The Devil’s Tower in Wyoming is a massive 1,267-foot rock formation that looks completely otherworldly and straight out from a Sci-Fi. This is where “Close Encounters of The Third Kind” was shot. It stands over imposingly over Belle Fourche River and has become quite popular with climbers all over the world recently.
12. The bright red Wadi Rum desert in Jordan often doubles as Mars in movies, like in the recent blockbuster film “The Martian.”
The blazing red Wadi Rum desert stands imposingly on the Jordan landscape. It is so bright and red that it closely resembles the surface of Mars, often being depicted as the planet in several flicks, including “The Martian.” You’ll be forgiven for mistaking you’ve landed on another planet. Go on a wilderness tour or camp conducted by local companies here. Find prehistoric inscriptions and dramatic carvings on the rocky caverns of Wadi Rum.
13. The eerie, azure-colored Marble Caves in Chile are carved into a peninsula of solid marble in a glacial lake that spans the Chile-Argentina border. They are the result of 6,000 years of wave erosion.
The otherworldly looking blue hued Marble Caves nestled in Chile are inscribed into a marble peninsula on a picturesque glacier lake running through the Argentinean-Chilean border. The caves are said to have been a consequence of 6,000 years of water erosion.
14. Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia is, at 4,000 square miles, the world’s largest salt flat. When it rains, its surface essentially turns into a giant mirror.
Salar de Uyuni is a 4,000 square miles salt flat plain in Bolivia (largest in the world) that features an eerie, cast-away desert-like landscape complete with a dry prehistoric lake, plenty of intriguing rock formations and cactus laden islands. You’ll get a creepy feeling of being in no man’s land when here. Perfect for explorers and adventure enthusiasts. During rains, the place turns into a massive mirror.
15. The Cave of the Crystals in Mexico is 980 feet below-ground and features some of the largest natural crystals ever found. Temperatures in the cave can reach a balmy 136 °F.
Mexico’s Cave of Crystals is nestled 980 feet underground and holds some of the planet’s best natural crystals. This location also features a temperature of 136 degrees F, making it a stunning balmy hotspot. The large, main chamber of the cave houses massive selenite crystals.
16. Arizona’s Antelope Canyon is a surreal sandstone canyon formed by flash floods and monsoons over the course of millions of years.
Antelope Canyon in Arizona is a strange-looking sandstone formation, which has been created over the course of several million years of rains and flash flooding. Keep in mind that visitors cannot enter the canyon area without being accompanied by a local Navajo guide.
17. Chocolate Hills in the Philippines are grass-covered limestone mounds that turn brown during the dry season. Hence the name, Chocolate Hills.
This ethereal place feels straight out of children’s storybook with a name to match. What locals refer to as Chocolate Hills are actually heaps of limestone that turn deep brown during dry months. The 1268 dramatic conical hills are located in the Philippines’ Bohol district and attract plenty of visitors for unique appeal.
18. Fly Geyser, Nevada, USA
Fly Geyser was accidentally created when scalding water began erupting through a man-made well in 1964. Dissolved minerals developed the mount and terraces that now surround the geyser, which continues to grow and release water up to five feet in the air. And as for those alien-like colors? You can thank algae for that.