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Three Craters on Mars Named for Physicist Devendra Lal and Towns in UP, Bihar

‘Lal’, ‘Mursan’, and ‘Hilsa’ are the names recently given to three craters on Mars, discovered by the Ahmedabad-based Physical Research Laboratory (PRL). These names not only honor significant figures and places in India but also hint at the red planet’s wet past, providing insights into Mars’s historical climate and potential for habitability.

Lal Crater

The largest of these craters, spanning approximately 65 kilometers in diameter, has been named “Lal Crater” in honor of Professor Devendra Lal, a legendary cosmic ray physicist from Varanasi. Professor Lal, who served as the director of PRL from 1972 to 1983, made substantial contributions to cosmic ray physics and space research. His pioneering work has left a lasting impact on the scientific community, particularly in advancing our understanding of cosmic rays and their effects on planetary environments.

The Lal Crater’s significance is heightened by findings from SHARAD (SHAllow RADar sounder), a subsurface radar on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). SHARAD identified substantial sedimentary deposits within the crater, providing compelling evidence that water once flowed across Mars. This discovery enhances our knowledge of Mars’s past climate, offering insights into the planet’s evolution over billions of years.

Mursan and Hilsa Craters

Adjacent to Lal Crater are two smaller craters named “Mursan Crater” and “Hilsa Crater.” Mursan Crater is named after the town of Mursan in Uttar Pradesh, while Hilsa Crater takes its name from the town of Hilsa in Bihar. Both towns hold cultural and historical significance, and naming these craters after them serves as a nod to the rich cultural tapestry that informs our exploration and understanding of space.

Mursan and Hilsa craters, each about 10 kilometers wide, are superimposed on the eastern and western sides of Lal Crater’s rim. Their discovery, also facilitated by SHARAD, contributes to the ongoing exploration of Mars’s geological composition and history.

Tharsis Volcanic Plateau

The three craters are located in the Tharsis volcanic region of Mars. Tharsis is a vast volcanic plateau near the equator in the planet’s western hemisphere, home to the largest volcanoes in the Solar System. The region’s geological features have long intrigued scientists, and the newly named craters add to the area’s significance.

International Recognition

On the recommendation of PRL, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature approved the naming of the craters as “Lal,” “Mursan,” and “Hilsa” on June 5, 2024. PRL Director Anil Bhardwaj highlighted this achievement, emphasizing its importance in the context of both scientific discovery and cultural acknowledgment.

These newly named craters on Mars not only honor Indian heritage but also contribute significantly to our understanding of the planet’s geological past, highlighting the interconnectedness of cultural recognition and scientific exploration.

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