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10 Ways Mars is Like New Mexico

Just like New Mexico is so much more than desert, Mars isn't just a red planet covered in rocks. It has steep walled mesas, plains and plateaus, volcanoes and valleys, craters and colors — yellow rocks, orange landscapes, blue sunsets, and yes, red.

Mars is of particular interest for the study of the origins of life because of its similarity to the early Earth. And it's of particular interest to New Mexicans because it looks like home.

Rock-strewn desert climates

New Mexico's desert, arid climate and the unique geology of its ancient rock layers could be a terrestrial stand-in for Mars.

Thin, dry atmospheres

New Mexico's elevation gives it a thinner atmosphere, but Mars is even thinner. And drier.

"Mars is like New Mexico, just more so," writes Larry Crumpler in his Rover Field Reports from Mars.

Daytime and nighttime temperatures can vary greatly.

Even on its hottest days, temperatures in New Mexico can plummet drastically at night. On Mars the Sun is only 50 percent as bright as on Earth and the atmosphere only 1 percent as dense, so the magnitude of its temperature shifts are even more intense.
Mars Exploration Program blogger Jeffrey Marlow writes that on Mars, the "atmosphere is very thin; with fewer molecules in the air to heat up and cool down, there's more solar power to go around during the day, and less atmospheric warmth at night."

Martian dust storms are like New Mexico's spring winds.

Mars and New Mexico both experience some pretty crazy dust devils and windstorms.

They both have an endless horizon.

You can look out in any direction and see for more than a hundred miles.

Like New Mexico, the mountains on Mars come in all shapes and sizes.

There's small mountain ranges, large, isolated mountains, small dome-shaped mountains, large hills, etc.

Mars' chasmas are deep, steep sided, elongated depressions similar to New Mexico canyons.

The Endeavour crater is similar to the Valles Caldera "super volcano," just west of Santa Fe.

(According to Rover Field Reports from Mars.)

Mars' Iapygia quadrangle area has a number of narrow ridges which appear to be the remnants of dikes, like the ones around Shiprock.

"The dikes were once under the surface, but have now been eroded. Dikes are magma-filled cracks that often carry lava to the surface and by definition cut across rock layers." (Wikipedia)

New Mexico's volcanic features are like the volcanic features on Mars.

"The arid climate, extensional rift setting, range in type and age of volcanic eruptions, and generally widespread and geologically youthful volcanism in New Mexico contribute to an environment rich in geologic processes and landforms analogous to many of those on Mars," writes Larry S. Crumpler, Jayne C. Aubele and James R. Zimbelman in "The Geology of Mars."

Many specific elements in New Mexico's landscape mimic the volcanic terrains on Mars: "The largest young caldera (Valles Caldera), largest young lava flows (McCartys and Carrizozo), an abundance of volcanic fields, juvenile types (Shiprock-Narbona Pass), and one of the great modern rift valleys on Earth (Rio Grande rift)."