Glenelgs on Earth and Mars twinned

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Image caption,
Glenelg in the north-west Highlands is to be twinned with Glenelg on Mars

The small Scottish community of Glenelg has held a ceremony to twin itself with its namesake on Mars.

Nasa's roving robotic laboratory, Curiosity, is headed for a geological feature on the Red Planet that has been called Glenelg.

Back on Earth, residents of Glenelg in the west Highlands held celebrations, which included the twinning ceremony and a ceilidh.

Guests included former Nasa astronaut Bonnie Dunbar.

Ms Dunbar flew on five space shuttle missions in the 1980s and 1990s on Challenger and Columbia.

In 1995, she flew in the first shuttle mission to dock with the Russian Space Station Mir. Three years later, she flew in the last mission to deliver a US astronaut to Mir.

Ms Dunbar's paternal grandparents came from Scotland. Her grandfather Charles Dunbar was born in Dundee and her grandmother Mary was born close to Gardenstown, near Banff.

The Canadian north-west has some ancient rock formations thought to be of a similar age to those found in Gale Crater, Curiosity's landing site.

The naming system is an attempt to make it easier for scientists and the public to understand what is being discussed when a particular location comes up in conversation.

Image caption,
Mars rover Curiosity is headed for a geological feature labelled Glenelg

Glenelg on Mars takes its name from a particular rock found in the Northwest Territories.

However, the placename has its roots in the Scottish Highlands.

Glenelg in Ross-shire has a long history.

In nearby Gleann Beag stand the ruins of Dun Telve and Dun Troddan, the fortress-like stone homesteads of Iron Age farmers.

Close to Glenelg's white painted houses are the ruins of a Red Coat barracks. Construction of the building was ordered after the 1715 Jacobite rising and was completed in 1723.

The Knoydart clearances, part of the Highland Clearances, started in Glenelg in 1853. It saw families forced from the land and emigration to British colonies.

The placename is also found in other parts of the world.

There is a beach resort in Adelaide, Australia, named Glenelg. It was established in 1836 and named after Lord Glenelg, a secretary of state for the British colonies and an MP for Inverness and Fortrose.

Glenelg in Maryland, in the US, takes it name directly from the Scottish placename.

Home to about 300 people today, Glenelg in Ross-shire has been keen to embrace its Martian namesake.

Emma MacLean, a twinning ceremony organiser, said the link with the Nasa mission and the Red Planet was a good way of keeping the community "healthy and vibrant".

She said: "Small communities such as ours are always looking for ways to promote the wide variety of attractions that our community has.

"The arrival of the Mars rover at Glenelg will be used to showcase to the international astronomy community the quality of the dark skies we have in Glenelg and Arnisdale.

"With so little light pollution the skies above are truly spectacular, especially at the moment with the Northern Lights activity."

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