Vassar Today

Matt Goes to Mars

By Emery Bernhard

“Your image has been acquired” was the precise wording in the text of an email Matthew Rosenfeld ’07 received from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in January. The space agency had accepted his proposal to have the Mars Global Surveyor (M.G.S.) photograph a scientifically promising ridge on the Martian surface.

The M.G.S. satellite has taken more than 120,000 photographs of the Martian surface since 1997. In August 2003, NASA began accepting public proposals for particular high-resolution photographs. When Debra Elmegreen, professor of astronomy, learned that NASA was encouraging the public to recommend Mars photography, she decided it was an ideal project to assign her students.

“It was a perfect opportunity for them to work like astronomers. They had to study closely technical journals, expand their analytical skills, and make a case that would rise to high scientific standards,” she explained.

What piqued Rosenfeld’s interest in this roughly one-kilometer-long ridge in the Lunae Palus region of Mars was that low-resolution photographs revealed one smooth side with relatively few impact craters and one rough side with a number of impact craters. Upon closer inspection, he noticed features that indicate a body of water might have once existed at the site.

“The crater in this area has a tail-like structure behind it. This means that when the impact that created this crater occurred, it could have generated enough heat to melt away any water on or near the surface,” Rosenfeld explained in his letter to NASA.

NASA cataloged Rosenfeld’s photograph as “Streamlined Hill in Kasei Valles” in its growing public database of photographs taken by the Mars Global Surveyor (

Rosenfeld has no immediate plans to further research the site, but he appreciates the bigger meaning of his accomplishment. “It’s exciting to know that the photograph will be available for any scientist who wants to investigate it in more depth. I suppose that could be me someday.”