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NASA is naming the rocks and soil on Mars in the Navajo language

Mar 12, 2021, 8:52 AM
The rock is called "Máaz" - the Navajo word for "Mars."
Credit:	NASA/JPL-Caltech...
The rock is called "Máaz" - the Navajo word for "Mars." Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    (CNN) — NASA is naming landmarks and geological features on Mars in the Navajo language.

The Perseverance rover’s team, in collaboration with the Navajo Nation, has been naming features of scientific interest with words in the language, according to NASA. And it includes a rock named “Máaz,” the Navajo word for “Mars.”

It is common for NASA missions to assign informal names to landmarks to provide the mission’s members a way to refer to various features of interest. And Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer made a list of words in the Navajo language available to the rover’s team to do so, according to a NASA press release.

“We hope that having our language used in the Perseverance mission will inspire more of our young Navajo people to understand the importance and the significance of learning our language. Our words were used to help win World War II, and now we are helping to navigate and learn more about the planet Mars,” Nez said in the statement.

The team already has a list of 50 Navajo names, including “strength” (“bidziil”) and “respect” (“hoł nilį́”). Perseverance itself has been translated to “Ha’ahóni.”

Perseverance had to be “taught” the language so it could recognize landmarks that have been labeled in Navajo, NASA said. The accent marks used in the English alphabet to convey the unique intonation of the Navajo language cannot be read by the computer languages Perseverance uses. So the team is using English letters without special characters or punctuation to represent Navajo words, the statement said.

“This fateful landing on Mars has created a special opportunity to inspire Navajo youth not just through amazing scientific and engineering feats, but also through the inclusion of our language in such a meaningful way,” said a Navajo engineer on the team, Aaron Yazzie of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.

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NASA is naming the rocks and soil on Mars in the Navajo language