A remote Scots village is set to twin with its namesake – a desolate community which has no residents.
A multi-billion-dollar project is currently exploring whether there has ever been life on the home of Glenelg’s “twin” – 35 million miles away.
Nasa’s robotic space rover Curiosity is probing Mars, sending back images which are causing worldwide fascination.
The remote-controlled device will later this month arrive at a rocky valley which scientists have called Glenelg, causing excitement in the Highland village of the same name.
Residents have now decided to host a celebration of its new cosmic links, and officially recognise Curiosity’s arrival at the Martian Glenelg with a twinning ceremony. The six-wheeled vehicle touched down in Gale Crater on Mars on 6 August and has travelled just over a quarter of a mile across the planet.
The valley of Glenelg has been so-called for two reasons.
Firstly, the robot will visit the location twice on its journey to and from a Martian mountain, Mount Sharp, and this coming and going inspired the rover team to use a palindrome, a word which reads the same forwards and backwards.
Secondly, all features around the crater being examined have been given names associated with a place called Yellowknife in northern Canada, where Glenelg is the name of a geological feature.
Residents in Scotland’s Glenelg will host a Space, Stars and Mars event on 20 October to mark Curiosity’s arrival at its namesake.
It includes a visit by Scottish-American astronaut Bonnie Dunbar, who will take part in a candlelit walk and a ceilidh.
Emma MacLean, Glenelg Community Development Trust officer, said: “This does not happen every day. We are hosting a party to mark the occasion and plan to have Bonnie Dunbar unveil an astronomical-themed sign for our community saying “Twinned with Mars”.
“The nameplace connection with Mars is a great thing for Glenelg, but also for Scotland.
“It’s really exciting. It is snowballing. Highland Council and Highlands and Islands Enterprise have both committed some funding and the response from the local community has been really positive.”
The Astronomer Royal for Scotland, John C Brown, is also among the guests set to attend the event for which the tiny community is now preparing. Mr Brown said: “The rover will crawl through a wee valley and backtrack along the same path. The palindrome Glenelg represents that.”
He added: “We may be able to see Mars in the daytime and we should certainly be able to see rather a nice crescent Moon. I will give a talk to set the scene.”
Joy Crisp, a deputy project scientist on the mission, said: “When we get to Glenelg, we want to take a look at the contacts between the three different terrain types. Maybe we’ll decide to do our first drilling into rock.”