MarsFest in Death Valley brings the Red Planet down to Earth

Discover how Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes in Death Valley National Park is similar to the surface of Mars at MarsFest 2018 this weekend.
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

If the surface of Mars needed a stand-in, Death Valley might be its double. Two decades ago, scientists found the sparse desert landscape the best place to test the Mars rover.

Now scientists and engineers will gather this weekend to talk about the relationship between the national park and science at MarsFest 2018.

The festival, which began in 2012, is free and open to the public. It begins Friday evening with keynote speaker Luther Beegle, who works on the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s 2020 Mission.

On Saturday, you can visit Mars Hill, covered with volcanic rubble and rocks, where the rover was tested and where Aaron Zent of NASA Ames Research Center will explain just how similar Death Valley and Mars are.


Other highlights include a guided walk to the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes from 3 to 4 p.m., which double as a Mars science lab, and night-sky viewing from 7:30 to 10 p.m. at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center.

There’s also Mars-centric programs for kids from 11 a.m. to noon and 2 to 3 p.m. Saturday at the visitor center.

On Sunday, visitors can take guided walks to the Ubehebe Crater volcanic field and Little Hebe Crater with Rosalba Bonaccorsi of the SETI Institute/NASA Ames Research Center.

Info: MarsFest