Curiosity rover's Mars landing area named Yellowknife

NASA has named the spot on Mars where the Curiosity rover landed Aug. 5 after the N.W.T. capital.

NASA chose city because of its link to North America's oldest rocks

Yellowknife is now not only the capital of the Northwest Territories, it is also a small chunk of land on Mars.

NASA said Thursday it has named the spot on Mars where the Curiosity rover landed Aug. 5 after the city on Great Slave Lake.

Joy Crisp, deputy project scientist, said it's a fitting name because the N.W.T.'s capital has the oldest rock on Earth — 2.7 billion years old.

"So we went to Mars to really get at some of the ancient geology because that's where we think there might be evidence of past environments similar to those on Earth," she said.

She said they're wondering whether those environments might have been favourable for life.

Before landing, the mission's science team began creating a geological map of about 390 square kilometres within Gale Crater, including the landing area.

The mapping project divided the area into 151 quadrangles of about 2.6 square kilometres each. Curiosity landed in the quadrangle called Yellowknife.

"Right now, the MSL rover is at the very beginning of its expedition, its mission, to explore this unusual area of Mars," said John Spray, director of the Planetary and Space Science Centre at the Unversity of New Brunswick.

"There's an analogy I think with frontier regions like Yellowknife which is a hub for geological exploration, for mineral wealth, and for general exploration missions into the north of Canada."

"It's kind of neat when anything gets Yellowknife some recognition," said Mayor Gordon Van Tighem. "So we've gone now from national notoriety to international to extraterrestrial."

Yellowknife prospector Walt Humphries said he would love to be up there looking around with the robot but he knows it's going to be a while before he can stake a claim.

"There's a few logistical problems," he said. "We thought working in the High Arctic was bad. Getting to Mars and back will be a bit of a challenge."