Mars: Its landscape looks a lot like home - Albuquerque Journal

Mars: Its landscape looks a lot like home

 "Sunset on Mars" is a view toward the far rim of Gusev Crater from the Columbia Hills. Photographed by Spirit, Sol 464 (April 23, 2005). (Courtesy of NASA)
“Sunset on Mars” is a view toward the far rim of Gusev Crater from the Columbia Hills. Photographed by Spirit, Sol 464 (April 23, 2005). (Courtesy of NASA)

Did you know the sky turns blue when the sun sets on Mars?

Also, if you were able to visit, you’d find places named Laguna Hollow, Clovis, Ortiz and Sandia.

"Larry's Lookout" is named after Larry Crumpler, who has worked on the Mars missions. Photographed by Spirit on Sol 454 (July 25, 2005). (Courtesy of NASA)
“Larry’s Lookout” is named after Larry Crumpler, who has worked on the Mars missions. Photographed by Spirit on Sol 454 (July 25, 2005). (Courtesy of NASA)

And, in case you were wondering, Mars has a mineral makeup similar to that found in the Land of Enchantment.

These are just a few of the facts and details that have emerged since NASA’s Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, landed on the Red Planet in January 2004.

After 10 years of collecting data and thousands of pictures, New Mexicans are getting a chance to see some of those photos up close and personal at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science.

“We wanted to treat the exhibit as sort of an art show,” says Jayne Aubele, museum adult programs educator and geologist. “There have been so many images sent back, but I don’t think people have seen them in this scope. It’s really landscape art.”

New Mexico, which has several connections to the Mars Exploration Rover Mission, is one of only two sites in the country exhibiting the photographs from the mission. The other is the Smithsonian Institution Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. The Albuquerque museum’s exhibit contains about 28 pieces.

Larry Crumpler, a research curator for volcanology and space sciences with the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, is also curator of the 10th Anniversary Mars Exploration Rover Mission exhibit at the museum. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)
Larry Crumpler, a research curator for volcanology and space sciences with the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, is also curator of the 10th Anniversary Mars Exploration Rover Mission exhibit at the museum. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Aubele worked on the exhibit with Larry Crumpler, research curator for volcanology and space sciences with the museum.

Crumpler has been involved with the Mars Rover program for nearly 12 years – before the launch of the rovers – and is the man responsible for some of the places on Mars being named after areas in New Mexico.

“You have to be quick with the names, and I’ve gotten a few in there,” he quips. “One is named after the Sandia Mountains, and there is another named after the Ortiz Mountains.”

“Larry’s Lookout” on Mars is the namesake of Crumpler.

“Somehow that got named after me,” he says. “We weren’t supposed to name areas after people who are alive. That one slipped in.”

"Clovis" outcropping in the Columbia Hills. Photographed by Spirit on Sol 226 (Aug. 26, 2004). The feature was named after the Clovis Paleoindian Culture and for Clovis in New Mexico. (Courtesy of NASA)
“Clovis” outcropping in the Columbia Hills. Photographed by Spirit on Sol 226 (Aug. 26, 2004). The feature was named after the Clovis Paleoindian Culture and for Clovis in New Mexico. (Courtesy of NASA)

Crumpler was selected by NASA to be a member of the MER (Mars Exploration Rover) science team and is the only member from New Mexico. He directed daily planning of meetings and does so from his museum office.

He was involved when both rovers launched – and said the original mission was supposed to last only three months.

Aubele says the museum put the exhibit together to help people gauge what it’s like to be on Mars.

“There are so many similarities to New Mexico,” she says. “We’ve had people come in and they are in awe at some of the photos.”

Crumpler says both Mars and New Mexico have volcanoes, canyons, mountains, sand dunes, dust devils, windstorms, dry arroyos, red dirt and seasons.

“Both are geologically dynamic,” Crumpler said. “It’s really amazing to see these images when they come through. It amazes me that you can see the layers and history of the land in Mars the same way you see it here.”

Crumpler said the group of scientists learned the sky turned blue at sunset about 500 days into the mission.

“We wanted to get the sun just as it was hitting the horizon,” he said. “This was amazing to find out because it’s just the opposite of Earth. Our sky is blue and then bursts with color at sunset. Over there, it’s red and orange during the day and then turns blue.”

Spirit, which launched on June 5, 2003, and arrived on Mars on Jan. 4, 2004, continued sending back data until March 2010, when it got stuck and did not have enough power to get out. Dust had covered the solar panels, which didn’t allow it to recharge. During its mission, Spirit returned 128,000 raw images of Mars after landing at Gusev Crater and traveling 4.8 miles.

Meanwhile, Opportunity, which launched on June 25, 2003, and landed at the Meridiani Planum on Jan. 25, 2004, is still roving the planet. It has traveled 24 miles and returned 187,000 raw images to Earth.

“The Rover is all solar-paneled,” Crumpler said. “About 400 days into the mission, we had 40 percent power and it didn’t look well. Dust was settling on top of the rover and then, one day, a dust devil came through and took all the dirt off. It’s been pretty amazing how this has all worked out. And we’re continuing to learn more on a daily basis.”

A full-size replica of the Mars Rover at the New Mexico Museum of History and Natural Science. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)
A full-size replica of the Mars Rover at the New Mexico Museum of History and Natural Science. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

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