NASA Names Dune on Mars for Late Geosciences Alumnus Nathan Bridges

Nathan Bridges
Nathan Bridges

NASA announced on July 11 that it has named a rippled linear dune of dark Martian sand “Nathan Bridges Dune” after planetary scientist and UMass Amherst geosciences alumnus Nathan Bridges (Ph.D. 1997). He died in April of a sudden heart attack at age 50. He was a planetary research scientist at John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

Bridges was leader of the “dune campaign” in NASA’s Curiosity team. The Martian feature was one research stop on the Curiosity rover’s mission to investigate active Martian dunes, according to NASA. A memorial recognition by the Lunar and Planetary Institute says, “Bridges was a senior expert on the geology of Mars, remote sensing techniques, and the role of wind-driven processes in planetary erosion and sedimentation on Earth, Mars, and Titan, Saturn’s largest moon.

Among his many important findings, Bridges discovered that wind is as important a geologic process on Mars as it is on Earth, despite the much lower density of the Martian atmosphere. He was an integral part of multiple Mars missions and instrument teams: he served as a co-investigator on the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) instrument on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, a co-investigator on the Mars Science Laboratory, Curiosity rover, ChemCam instrument, and a science team member on two Mars-2020 rover instruments, SuperCam and the Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer.”

Julie Brigham-Grette, department head of geosciences, recalls, “I remember him so well among a fun group of graduate students mapping other planets with George McGill and NASA funding. His sudden passing is a sad loss not only for his family, his colleagues at NASA and Johns Hopkins, but for our campus geoscience community. His wife Karen is also an alumna of our department.” Bridges is also survived by two children, Sarah and Matthew.