Maine on Mars! And a Visit to NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab

Exciting news for anyone who loves Maine: A small square of land on the surface of Mars—about 555 acres of the half-Earth-size planet—has officially been named Bar Harbor by our friend Katie Stack Morgan (below), a wonderful and brilliant young research scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California, who works on the ongoing Curiosity rover mission.

Katie used a Mars globe at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory to show me areas the rover was and was not exploring. 

The Curiosity rover has been exploring a number of Mars surface landmarks that Katie—a regular visitor to Maine's Acadia National Park with her family—has endowed with Bar Harbor-area names, such as Cadillac Mountain. This story from the local newspaper, the Mount Desert Islander, nicely sums up how Katie, as a member of the Mars project's science team, got the opportunity to name a portion of Mars (while sticking to naming guidelines set by the International Astronomical Union) and what's been happening with Curiosity's exploration of "Bar Harbor:"

Three summers ago we met Katie at The Naturalist's Notebook in Seal Harbor, Maine, where she was exploring our interactive science and nature installations and shopping for fun items such as our blank "Mars Passport" notebooks (she bought one and joked that she was going to use it to write down her hours working on the rover project). A few months later in Pasadena she gave Pamelia and me an amazing behind-the-scenes tour of the Jet Propulsion Lab, or JPL. It's a remarkable facility that includes not just genius scientists but also everything from a working duplicate of the rover (so that JPL technicians can troubleshoot with a real rover if the one on Mars encounters problems) to developmental labs where future spacecraft components are designed and built to a "Mars Yard," which replicates the rocky Martian surface and can be used as a testing ground for rovers. Here are some of the photos we took on our unforgettable day at the JPL:

If you haven't seen the movie The Martian, check it out—it offers an inspiring, if fictionalized, look at the remarkable JPL scientists in action (and happens to be one of our favorite films). Also try to catch National Geographic's new six-part miniseries on Mars, which is debuting in November. It's fiction as well—it follows the story of a manned voyage to Mars in the year 2033—but I'm guessing it will be as scientifically accurate as the filmmakers could make it. Here's a link to the trailer for the miniseries:

Congratulations to Katie on literally putting Bar Harbor and Maine on the map (of Mars). For those of you who have been to Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor, now seems like an especially good time to start following NASA's exciting exploration of the red planet. —Craig Neff and Pamelia Markwood