Published Tuesday Apr 24, 2018
Researchers at Tennessee Tech University have named a Martian crater as part of their work on a NASA-funded project to map a geological structure on Mars unlike any found on Earth.
Jeanette Wolak, assistant professor of earth sciences at Tech, is working on the Mars mapping project which will produce the first-ever published map of a terraced fan. The fan is located in what will now be known as Garu Crater, a name Wolak submitted 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 and colleague, Joseph (Asante).”
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 were, that is located inside a crater that was previously unnamed. These fan formations are unlike Earth’s river deltas, leaving researchers to explore how they are formed.
Wolak has been working with an interdisciplinary group of Tech students on the project. Amber Patterson and Shelby Smith are computer science students who help process digital images gathered by Mars orbiters. Hannah Blaylock, Benjamin Holladay, Matthew Loggins, Natalie Robbins and Caleb Stubber are earth sciences students who have focused on the mapping and logging of features on the surface of Mars.
This 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. “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 and is from Ghana. Wolak discussed her project and the crater naming process with Asante who recommended the name Garu, a small farming town on the edge of the Sahara Desert 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 currently being explored by NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity.