Chandler native helps name Martian crater - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Chandler native helps name Martian crater

May 14th, 2018 development
Chandler native helps name Martian crater

SanTan Sun News Staff


A Chandler native and Perry High School grad is among researchers at Tennessee Tech University who recently named a Martian crater as part of their work on a NASA-funded project to map a geological structure on Mars unlike any on Earth.

Natalie Robbins, an earth sciences student at the university, is working on a Mars mapping project that will produce the first published look at an apparent river bed, or terraced fan, located in what will now be known as Garu Crater.

The daughter of Chandler residents Shirley and Rob Robbins, Natalie helped assistant professor Jeanette Wolak submit that name to the International Astronomical Union and recorded in the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature.

“It’s exciting. I was also nervous about naming it something good,” Wolak said. “You want to pick a name that you’re going to enjoy putting on the map, but I think my favorite part was how collaborative the naming process was, talking through it with my students.”

The IAU allows the naming of features in the solar system based on a set of guidelines. First, there has to be scientific significance to the naming. Wolak’s mapping project checked that box.

The project is looking at a terraced fan, a specific Martian structure indicating an area where water channels once existed. The fan formations are unlike Earth’s river deltas, leaving researchers to explore how they are formed.

Robbins is focused on the mapping and logging of features on the surface of Mars. Two computer science students help process digital images gathered by Mars orbiters.

The NASA-funded mapping project will produce the first-ever published scientific investigation map of one of these structures. So, the crater where it is located needed a name.

The IAU also requires that craters less than 60 kilometers in diameter be named after a small town of less than 10,000 people.

“IAU keeps a database of all the names that have been submitted and they try to make sure that an equal number of names are submitted from different countries,” Wolak explained, adding:

“They asked us to pick a name from an underrepresented country, a country that didn’t have a lot of names already recorded, and I looked at the list and one of the countries on there was Ghana.”

Joseph Asante is also an assistant professor of earth sciences at Tech. Wolak discussed her project and the crater naming process with Asante and he recommended the name Garu, a small farming town on the edge of the Sahara Desert that struggles with water during Ghana’s dry season.

“I thought it was perfect because Joseph is a hydrogeologist who studies water, and Mars doesn’t have a lot of water,” Wolak said.

With the town of Garu’s water struggles, it seemed fitting that its sister location on Mars be a crater that is home to a structure believed to have been formed by water as well.

“They don’t have water year-round,” Asante said. “When we have winter here, it is dry season in Ghana. Water is a big issue in northern Ghana.”

Wolak submitted an application to have the name officially recorded and it was approved and recorded in the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature earlier this month. Garu Crater is located near the Gale Crater, which is being explored by NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity.