Yes, there’s a Bar Harbor on Mars. There’s also an Acadia, a Mount Desert Island, even a Cadillac Mountain – all thanks to a NASA geologist who, when naming these sites, drew from her favorite Maine attractions.
Dr. Katie Stack Morgan, NASA geologist and New England native, probably didn’t expect the summers she’s spent in Maine since she was a child to collide with her work at the space program. When it came time to name the “neighborhoods” (essentially quadrants) on Mars that the Curiosity rover has been exploring since 2016, though, she drew on memories of her favorite Maine attractions to splash a little bit of New England on the red planet.
“Being out there in a national park and hiking really kind of inspired my love for geology,” she said in an April 2017 Boston Globe article. “When I had an opportunity to pick a name for an area on Mars, I thought, well, I really love the Bar Harbor–Acadia area.”
Thanks to Stack Morgan, not only will you find a Bar Harbor on the planet (serving as the name of a neighborhood), but a Mount Desert Island, an Acadia, and many more that describe some 300 rocks, dunes, and outcroppings. And while you probably won’t be able to visit these landmarks’ counterparts on Mars anytime soon, you certainly can here on Earth.
Burnt Porcupine Island
While it’s not actually an island on Mars, but a section with distinct rock formations the Curiosity rover has been studying, its namesake on earth is part of an archipelago consisting of four other islands in Frenchman Bay (Sheep Porcupine, Long Porcupine, Bald Porcupine, and Bar Island). Carved by an ancient retreating glacier and the most visually prominent of the Porcupine Islands from Bar Harbor, the 40-acre Burnt Porcupine is the only harbor island not yet owned by Acadia National Park. In fact, it’s been privately owned by a local family for more than 100 years!
Located on the western side of Mount Desert Island, Squid Cove is just a quiet bay and idyllic fishing spot near Goose Marsh Point and Squid Island. On the red planet, however, Squid Cove is a much bigger deal: In early 2017, the Curiosity rover photographed shallow crevices at the site, believed to have been formed from ancient mud cracks – therefore providing more evidence that Mars wasn’t always a dry planet.
Aunt Betty Pond
While the Martian version is not really a pond, it certainly is here in Acadia. Shallow, with a maximum depth of about seven feet, Aunt Betty Pond is a popular spot along one of the park’s car-free carriage trails, which offer scenic and varied terrain for cyclists. The moderately challenging loop around the pond takes riders over six stone bridges and connects to another loop around Witch Hole Pond, which is the route the Obama family cycled when they visited the park in 2010.
The red planet’s version of this landmark is made up of a patch of Murray Bedrock, from which the Curiosity rover has been taking samples to study its chemistry. The real Gorham Mountain, however, is home to what is perhaps Acadia’s most popular trail to hike. At 525 feet, it’s one of the smaller mountains on Mount Desert Island, but its close coastal location provides views that are both intimate and spectacular of Thunder Hole, Otter Cliff, and Sand Beach.