I had a bit of fun yesterday... I participated in a JPL press conference, and I was supposed to describe our mapping work on the team, which I've been co-chairing with John Grant. Fred Calef is doing all the hard work. This effort has been going on for about a month before landing. We solicited volunteers from the science team to each map a 1.3x1.3 km quad in or near the landing ellipse. The volunteers submitted their maps, and we've been integrating them into a single map. In our mission work, we are refining our efforts and developing models for how the different rock types formed. It's been an amazingly fun project.
In addition to describing the mapping effort, I was going to announce the name of the quad we landed in - it happened to be one of the ones I mapped. However, at the last minute, we decided to postpone the announcement. Thus, I talked about Quad 51. No one on the team had noticed - or at least said anything - about this coincidence. Immediately, the press, however, picked up on "Area 51". We landed in Area 51! Total coincidence!
The name Yellowknife was announced after the press conference. That now has people running around explaining why we chose Yellowknife, which I had planned to do in the press conference! So here's a bit about why:
For the Geologists: The Yellowknife Supergroup consists of rocks that are about 2.7 billion years old. They form a greenstone belt (Sasha and the UCD Geology Club - they include one schist, two schist, green schist, but no blue schist.) that overlies the oldest rocks in the world, the 4.98 billion year old Acasta Gneiss.
For the Historians and Geologists, who are after all, historians of the earth: Yellowknife is the largest town in the Northwest Territories with a population of a little less than 20,000 people. It is named after the Yellowknife Dene who live in the area and used to make knives out of copper. In the 1930's, Yellowknife was a gold and uranium boom town, and in the 1990's it was the center of a diamond rush. Many geologists and arctic explorers go through Yellowknife on their way north. Thus, the town holds many interesting memories for a number of people on the team, including John Grotzinger, the Project Scientist, who is the one who chose the name.
Congratulations to Yellowknife!
Back to the topic of Area 51: The team loves it, as do the engineers. In today's press conference, one of them talked about all the strange things that happened in Quad 51. It couldn't have been better!