Death Valley NP is a lot like Mars. That’s why scientists are partnering with the park to celebrate a three-day, free public festival titled Mars and the Mojave: Exploring extremes on Earth and beyond, scheduled for March 9-11, 2012
The barren landscape of Death Valley, almost devoid of vegetation, evokes the red planet’s surface.The dry, but not completely rainless climate is similar to conditions on Mars three billion years ago.Other-worldly features like the Badwater salt flat and Ubehebe Crater embody the extreme environments in which scientists seek the building blocks of life on other planets.
For these reasons and others, scientists from NASA and universities have flocked to Death Valley for decades, testing equipment and hypotheses bound for rocky spheres beyond our earthly home.In other words, Death Valley is an ideal planetary analog site – a place on earth that mimics the conditions of places like Mars.
The program kicks off Friday night, with a keynote address titled, “Curiosity on Mars,” delivered by Dr. Chris McKay from NASA Ames Research Center, a member of the Mars Science Laboratory team.The talk will be followed by telescope viewing of Mars, Jupiter, and other astronomical objects.
The Mars Science Laboratory is a NASA mission that launched successfully on November 26, 2011.A suite of instruments, mounted on a rover named Curiosity, will help determine if Mars can currently sustain, or has ever supported life.The rover is scheduled to land on the red planet in August of this year.Several of Curiosity’s instruments and experiments were designed by scientists who have worked in Death Valley, and will be participating in the festival.
Visitors to Death Valley National Park during the festival will enjoy scientist-hosted field trips to analog sites like Mars Hill, Badwater salt flats, and the Ubehebe crater field.An expo on the lawn of the park’s newly renovated Visitor Center will feature booths from various NASA centers, universities, and non-profit organizations, as well as mini-Curiosity Rover demonstrations, scientist talks, and free souvenirs.After-lunch lectures and an evening panel will provide the public with more in-depth perspectives on planetary research in National Parks and around the globe, as well as a discussion about the relevance of space science. The festival concludes on Sunday afternoon featuring a talk on the future of planetary exploration, on earth and beyond.
“Astronomy doesn’t end when the sun comes up,” says Dr. Tyler Nordgren, author of Stars Above, Earth Below: A Guide to Astronomy in the National Parks, and a featured speaker at the Mars and the Mojave Festival.”This event is the perfect embodiment of that idea.” For more information, including a draft program schedule, see https://www.nps.gov/deva/upload/MarsMojave.pdf .