Rafael Navarro González (Photo: Who Magazine / Leonardo Manzo)
The team of scientists and engineers behind NASA’s Curiosity named a mountain along the rover’s path on Mars after Rafael Navarro. We tell you about this scientist.
Who is Rafael Navarro?
Rafael Navarro was one of the most prominent scientists in the interplanetary study, He died on January 28, from the Covid-19 disease.
One of his most outstanding scientific contributions was to identify the primary role of volcanic lightning in the abiotic fixation of nitrogen necessary for the origin of life on Earth; in addition to discovering a nitrogen crisis in the Precambrian era.
Navarro González obtained his bachelor’s degree in biology from the Faculty of Sciences of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in 1983 and his doctorate in Chemistry from the University of Maryland in College Park in 1989, working with Cyril Ponnamperuma, a specialist in the origin of the life.
Rafael Navarro did a postdoctoral stay at the University of Maryland where he worked in cometary chemistry and in the planning of a Specialized Center for Research and Teaching in Exobiology at NASA.
Even President Barack Obama recognized his work for the exploration of Mars. “One of Mexico’s most important scientists, Rafael Navarro González, is helping to analyze the data from the Rover on the soil of Mars,” Obama said during a speech to students on May 3, 2013, at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City.
Read more: Rafael Navarro’s legacy will continue, say Mexican scientists
Rafael Navarro mountain
Now a steep hump stretching 120 meters high, the “Rafael Navarro Mountain” It is located on Mount Sharp in the northwest of Gale Crater.
“We are truly honored to have a prominent hill named after our father. It is their dream and ours to make this happen ”, wrote the children of Navarro-González, Rafael and Karina Navarro Aceves, in a statement to NASA.
“Since our parents met, their dreams merged and became a beautiful team, working very hard for 36 years. Our dad was an accomplished scientist, but above all, a great human being who managed to reconcile work and family. Our mom, Faby, always told him that his name would one day be on Mars, and now that is coming true. We all think there must be a party in heaven“.
What happens in the mountain
Rafael Navarro Mountain is in a major geological transition in Gale Crater from a region rich in clay to one rich in sulfate minerals. Sulfate mineral analysis can help scientists better understand the major shift in Martian climate from wetter to drier conditions, according to Ashwin Vasavada, a Curiosity project scientist based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.
“We think of this hill as a gateway,” Vasavada said. “The Rafael Navarro mountain will be constantly in our sights for the next year as curiosity surrounds it.”
The new name for the hill is informal and intended for members of the global Curiosity team. The team has unofficially named thousands of features in Gale Crater, from boreholes to rocks and dunes. “Team members agree on a name for a particular feature of interest, so that people don’t get confused if we look at it with various instruments,” Vasavada said.
Before Mount Rafael Navarro, the Curiosity team named four other features in honor of the deceased mission scientists: “Jake Matijevic” is the first rock Curiosity studied and is named after a rover engineer who died in 2012.
Curiosity’s first drill hole, “John Klein,” honors the mission’s deputy project manager who died in 2011. “Nathan Bridges Dune” is named after a co-investigator of the Curiosity ChemCam instrument who died in 2017. And “Heinrich Wänke ”is a rock target that commemorates Wänke’s contributions to the development of a rover instrument, APXS, that analyzes the chemical composition of Martian rocks.
Rover route to mount Navarro
In late March, Curiosity left “Nontron,” a region named after a village in southwestern France where scientists first described the mineral nontronite. Nontronite is part of a group of the most common types of clay on Mars. Now, Curiosity will navigate the Rafael Navarro hill, stopping in different regions of scientific interest to drill samples.
“We will not have Rafael with us on the next leg, but we will bring his considerable experience, creativity and great enthusiasm for astrobiology studies to influence our investigation of ancient habitable environments in Gale Crater,” he said. Paul mahaffy, research director.