A team of NASA scientists have named a small rocky patch on Mars "Winnipeg", after one of Canada's coldest cities. The Curiosity Rover is still collecting and analyzing samples from the surface of Mars in order to determine if the planet ever did, or could, support life. Curiosity is currently studying a rocky ridge called the Murray formation, and has identified three target areas for further investigation. One of those areas has been named Winnipeg.
Temperatures in Winnipeg can go as low as -20 C (-4 F) in the winter, with brutal, cold winds. In December of 2013, Winnipeg was in the middle of a "deep freeze", with temperatures as low as -31 C (-23.8 F). When taking into account the windchill, the temperature felt closer to -50 C (-58 F). That same week, the Curiosity Rover reported a maximum temperature on Mars of -29 C (-20.2 F), meaning that the city of Winnipeg was colder than the surface of the uninhabited planet. Astronomer and manager of science communication at the Manitoba Museum Scott Young said that it was "pretty cool" that "the folks at NASA actually noticed" the comparison.
NASA first mentioned the rocky patch known as Winnipeg in a mission update, highlighting it as a "target" in the Murray formation. Winnipeg is one of three small areas on the Murray formation that will be studied by the rover in detail. The area is estimated to be only a foot across, but could contain evidence of past life on Mars.
Curiosity will use its impressive inventory of equipment, including a drill and an X-ray spectrometer, to collect and analyze samples of rocks and other minerals. NASA hopes the results will provide insight into the geological past and present of Mars. As Young explained:
Some of those really big exciting questions that we've been trying to figure out about Mars - the little area called Winnipeg is the perfect place to gain those observations and maybe solve some of those mysteries.
NASA has named a part of Mars after a Canadian city in the past. Curiosity rover's landing spot was named Yellowknife in 2012, after the city's link to geological exploration.