Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Late UNM professor named after craters on Mars

ALBUQUERQUE, NM (KRQE) – It is a rare honor for the University of New Mexico and for the man who led UNM’s Department of Geology for more than three decades. His name is forever on a sky map. From now on, if anyone looks at a map of the planet Mars, they will see a massive crater that would stretch from Grants to Albuquerque and is named after longtime head of UNM’s geology department, Wolfgang Elston.

The research scientist Dr. Horton Newsom is on the staff of the UNM Institute of Meteoritics. His team, with Elston’s help, worked to identify and map locations on Mars where the 2012 Curiosity rover should have landed your name on another planet forever,” Newsom said.

Elston passed away in 2016, with his work mapping Mars only a small part of his legacy. “Due to his dedication to the geology of New Mexico throughout his amazingly long career, generations and generations of students have been educated by Wolf at the University of New Mexico. So this is a tremendous legacy from him,” Newsom said.

These students include Dr. Larry Crumpler, one of Elston’s graduate students in the ’70s. “He was kind of a down-to-earth guy who actually knew what it was like to be a scientist,” Crumpler said. He works at the Natural History Museum. Crumpler is also on the team currently using the Perseverance rover to map Mars and collect rock samples. “The last time I saw Wolf, I actually thanked him because he actually made me a field geologist, which I now use on two different planets because I still do it here on Earth in New Mexico, and I do it daily on Mars now,” Crumpler said.

Crumpler’s book “Missions to Mars” has just been published. This is the first time Elston Crater has appeared on a map in this form. Steve Elston earned his Physics degree from UNM, received his Ph.D. at Princeton and now teaches at Harvard. “I was just thrilled because he had spent decades studying craters and working on lunar and planetary geology and I knew he would be thrilled and it was such an honor,” said Steve, Wolf’s son .

All this from a man who grew up as a Jewish boy fleeing the Nazis from his native Germany, survived the Blitz in England at a refugee school and was reunited with his parents in the US seven years later. “For me, the most remarkable thing about my father was that he went through all that, was driven from his country, barely escaped and then was bombed, everything, and yet he was always optimistic, he was always ready to tell a joke, him was always ready to start the next big thing. His mood never seemed to have dampened him,” said Steve.

UNM scientists are working on several Mars missions. They have collaborations with the Museum of Natural History, Los Alamos National Lab, and NASA.

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