Ridge on Mars named for UAB scientist who helped explore the Red Planet

wdowiakThomas Wdowiak, Ph.D., associate professor emeritus of physics, died in 2013, but his name lives on as the name of a ridge on the western rim of Mars’ Endeavour crater.

Wdowiak, who taught and conducted research at UAB for nearly 30 years, was a member of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover project, and he operated the crucial Mössbauer spectrometers onboard MERs Spirit and Opportunity rovers that helped uncover firm evidence that water once existed on Mars.

"Tom Wdowiak was a member of our team from the very beginning, and we wanted to honor him after his passing,” said John Callas, Ph.D., project manager of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover project. "We wanted to find a significant feature to name after him.”

In a Tuscaloosa News article, James Rice, Ph.D., UAB alumnus and geology team leader for NASA rover Opportunity, said the ridge was named for Wdowiak a couple of months ago. More than 20 rocks on the ridge were named for places relevant to Wdowiak’s work and professional life.

Opportunity, the nearly 11-year-old rover, approached the ridge last month and captured a panoramic image of newly named Wdowiak Ridge and the view from it.

Wdowiak Ridge 2 Wdowiak Ridge, pictured here, stands prominently on the western rim of Mars’ Endeavour crater, about 200 yards west of the rim's main crest line. The pancam on the Mars rover Opportunity recorded the component images for this mosaic Sept. 17, 2014. It is visible from overhead in the map from the northeastern end near the rover's Sol 3751 location to Odyssey Crater near the rover's Sol 3789 location.

The rover is there studying rocks that were tossed outward by an impact that dug a crater 100 feet wide into the southern end of the ridge. Scientists are exploring the ridge and how it fits into the geologic story of the region.

Opportunity and its twin rover Spirit landed on the surface of Mars in January 2004. Spirit stopped sending data in 2010, and Opportunity was joined by the Curiosity rover in August 2012.

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