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NASA team names Martian hill after Rafael Navarro-Gonzalez

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The team of scientists and engineers behind NASA’s Curiosity rover has named a hill along the rover’s path on Mars in honor of recently deceased mission scientist Rafael Navarro-Gonzalez.

A craggy hump that stretches 120 meters tall, “Rafael Navarro Mountain” is located on Mount Sharp in northwest Gale Crater, NASA said on Monday.

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Navarro-Gonzalez died on January 28 from complications related to Covid-19.

A leading astrobiologist in Mexico, he was a co-investigator on the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM), a portable chemistry lab aboard Curiosity that has been sniffing out the chemical makeup of Martian soil, rocks, and air.

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As such, he helped lead the team that identified ancient organic compounds on Mars; his many accomplishments also included identifying the role of volcanic lightning in the origin of life on Earth.

Navarro-Gonzalez was a researcher at Nuclear Sciences Institute at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City.

“We are truly honoured to have a prominent hill named after our dad; it’s his and our dream come true to see this happen,” wrote Navarro-Gonzalez’s children, Rafael and Karina Navarro Aceves, in a statement to NASA.

Rafael Navarro Mountain sits at a major geological transition in Gale Crater from a clay-rich region to one that is rich in sulfate minerals.

Analyzing sulfate minerals may help scientists better understand the major shift in the Martian climate from wetter to drier conditions, according to Ashwin Vasavada, Curiosity’s project scientist based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.

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