If you want to visit Bar Harbor, Acadia, or Katahdin, you’ll have to specify: the one in Maine, or the one on Mars?
That’s because a team of scientists working with NASA to map the red planet are naming newly explored areas after places they know and love in Maine.
“The ability to name things on Mars for things that I love here is an honor I never expected to have,” said Aileen Yingst, a planetary geologist based in Brunswick, Maine. She works remotely for the Planetary Science Institute in Arizona.
She is on a team of scientists studying images taken by NASA’s Curiosity rover. Yingst helps create detailed maps of terrain.
Another member of her team, Dr. Katie Stack Morgan, grew up vacationing in Maine. When they had to pick a name for a new quadrangle of land, they decided to call it the “Bar Harbor quad.”
Every new target they explore and name inside Bar Harbor, Mars is named after a place in Maine. There’s Acadia, Moosehead Lake, and Southwest Harbor: iconic Maine destinations beloved by tourists from around the world.
But there are also more obscure Maine landmarks found on Mars: like Passagassawakeag, named after Maine’s Passagassawakeag River.
Some of the Mars/Maine sites have similarities. For example, the Ogunquit Beach on Mars is a sandy area, in a spot that scientists believed once contained water.
Yingst said these are informal names for now, but will be used frequently in all the PSI publications.
“The chances that those names change in our lifetime is remote,” she said.