Mars on Earth

December 28, 2009


Photographer: Kelly E. Fast
Summary Author: Kelly E. Fast; Jim Foster

The photo above looks as though it could have been captured by one of the Mars rovers; however, it was actually taken approaching the summit of Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii, which is one of the best sites in the world for astronomical observations. Earlier this month, a group of scientists from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center visited the mountain to observe the planet Mars. But a telescope wasn’t needed to see the Mars on Earth that lay just down the road. This rock-strewn, rust-colored volcanic landscape, consisting largely of basaltic lava, resembles parts of the Red Planet’s barren surface, highlighting similarities that exist between the two different worlds. Alpine and polar locations on some areas of our watery planet have proved to be reliable analogs for studying Martian geology and geomorphology. Of course, don’t expect to see cerulean blue skies on Mars. Suspended dust in the thin Martian atmosphere effectively scatters sunlight - some absorption occurs as well. Thus, even at midday, the Martian sky is often the color of butterscotch or amber. Photo taken near the top of the 13,796 ft (4,205 m) summit of Mauna Kea in early December 2009.

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Mauna Kea coordinates: 19.824444, -155.473333