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Walker Lake

April 11th, 2007

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It’s hard to get a more profound sense of physical remoteness and isolation in the United States than to drive east from Walker Lake, Nevada as the Sun sinks below the western horizon. It’s like Mars.

On a transcontinental flight last month, I had a window seat away from the wing. The sky was clear over Nevada, and the sun angle was low. It was an ideal situation for high-resolution imaging of a habitable terrestrial planet. The airplane view provides an interesting link between the experience of driving across the landscape and examining the satellite photos. The area just east of Walker Lake imparts an impression of a planet that’s very different from the global idea of the “pale blue dot.” The lake itself is salty, alkaline.

Source: Google Maps

The satellite and aerial photographs show that Walker Lake seems to be an evaporating remnant of what was once a much larger body of water.

Four billion years ago, Gusev crater on Mars probably looked very similar, with a sour central lake receeding with bathtub-ring clockwork.

Image: NASA

On Mars, there are only a few spots where a high-level of zoom will reveal artificial features:

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On Earth, in the region to the East of Walker Lake, there’s very little that can’t be ascribed to natural processes. This smooth black curve seems to be a wave cut bench of the vanished shoreline:

This feature, however, would be more challenging for a planetary geologist to explain. It’s obviously younger than the channels that it cuts across. Perhaps it’s fresh material that welled up from a crack in the Earth’s crust? There are volcanos dotted across the Basin and Range province.

Just south of the region shown in the splash image for this post, there are some extremely strange landforms…

And as is often the case in planetary exploration, when one wants to see even more detail,

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