New website about Mars launches as Gaeilge

1 Oct 2014

Transverse aeolian ridges (blue colour) lie adjacent to a bedrock ridge on Mars. It is a false colour image constructed using data in the infrared, red and blue bands. Image via HiRISE for Beautiful Mars

A new website, Tumblr, Twitter feed and YouTube channel showcasing images from Mars launches today – with an Irish twist.

Nach bhfuil Mars go hálainn?

A new suite of online resources launched today is bringing Mars to the masses as Gaeilge by showing stunning close-up images of the red planet’s surface with accompanying information in the Irish language.

The new website, Tumblr, dedicated Twitter feed (@HiRISEIrish) and YouTube channel showcase images from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) instrument aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been orbiting Mars since 2006.

Images of Mars

HiRISE, which is operated by the University of Arizona, has yielded high-resolution images from the surface of Mars that change the way we think about the planet, says Dr Mary Bourke, assistant professor in geography at Trinity College Dublin who studies the dynamic landscape on Mars.

“At this resolution you can see ripples on dunes,” she says. “And in addition to being an important scientific resource, these images are really gorgeous.”

In a bid to spread the word (and pictures) more widely, the Beautiful Mars project at the University of Arizona shows images from HiRISE and encourages translations of the captions and information into numerous languages.

Looking at the site, Bourke hit on the idea of including Irish. “They have it French and Spanish and Turkish and Latin (among others), so I said why don’t we do something as Gaeilge.”

Dome-shaped sand dunes near the North Polar ice cap on Mars. The image is ‘false colour’ constructed using data in the infrared, red and blue bands. Image via HiRISE for Beautiful Mars  

Translating tech terms

The initial challenge was to get the Irish translations for more technical terms, such as crater and ejecta, she recalls, and then volunteers in Ireland, the US and Canada got to work on the caption translations.

Contributing volunteers included Matt Hussey, Diarmuid Dwyer, Sean Ó Cionnfhaola and Irish Language Officer at Trinity, and Aoife Crawford. Cearbhall Ó Síocháin, RTÉ Radió na Gaeltachta, provided audio for captioned images.

The website was launched at 5pm today and Bourke hopes that it will provide a resource for people who are interested in Irish, Mars or both.

“The hope is that schools will use this as another interesting way to get students interested in Irish and space,” she says.

A Martian terrain contains ‘Swiss cheese’ features. The terrain is found only within the southern polar cap of Mars, which is mostly composed of frozen carbon dioxide and water. Image via HiRISE for Beautiful Mars

People’s camera

Ari Espinoza at the University of Arizona is keen to make the information about Mars widely available. “We (HiRISE) call ourselves ‘The People’s Camera’ because we feel that Mars belongs to everyone,” he says.

Espinoza co-ordinates the Beautiful Mars project with the aim of reaching people with little or no knowledge of English but who still want to learn about Mars.

“At the same time, we want our project to be the intersection of science and culture, so we think it’s important to feature languages that are underrepresented in outreach (and) can be a resource for showing languages in a dynamic real-world context – having Irish is absolutely excellent because we can achieve both those goals and contribute to its success.”

Espinoza commends the volunteers who took up the challenge of translation and hopes the new Irish sites will inspire more to follow.

“No one expects to see Irish describing pictures of Mars, and we’re very excited to show that it can be done.”

Dr Claire O’Connell is a scientist-turned-writer with a PhD in cell biology and a master’s in science communication