ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – It is a rare honor for the University of New Mexico and for the man who led UNM’s Geology Department for more than three decades. His name is on a map of the heavens, forever. From now on, when someone looks at a map of the planet Mars, they will see a massive crater that would span from Grants to Albuquerque named for Wolfgang Elston.

Research scientist Dr. Horton Newsom is with UNM’s Institute of Meteoritics. His team, with Elston’s help, worked to identify and map places on Mars for the Curiosity Rover to land on in 2012. “It’s really gratifying that we were able to get, he was able to be recognized in this fashion. It’s quite an honor to have your name on another planet forever,” said Newsom.

Elston died in 2016, with his work mapping Mars just a small part of his legacy. “Because of his dedication to New Mexico geology for his amazingly long career, generations and generations of students were trained at University of New Mexico by Wolf. And so this is a tremendous legacy of his,” Newsom said.


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Those students include Dr. Larry Crumpler, a grad student of Elston’s in the 70s. “He was a sort of down-to-Earth sort of person who actually knew what it took to be a scientist,” said Crumpler who’s on the staff of the Museum of Natural History.

Crumpler is also on the team using the Perseverance Rover right now to map Mars and collect rock samples. “The last time I saw Wolf I actually thanked him because he actually made me into a field geologist which I’m now using on two different planets, because I still do it here on the Earth in New Mexico but I’m doing it daily on Mars now,” said Crumpler.

Crumpler’s book “Missions to Mars” is just out. It’s the first time the Elston Crater has appeared on a map in this form. Wolfgang Elston’s son Steve Elston earned a physics degree at UNM, got his Ph.D. at Princeton, and now teaches at Harvard. “I was just thrilled because he had spent decades studying craters and working on lunar and planetary geology and I knew he’d be thrilled and it was such a great honor,” said Steve Elston.

All of this from a man who, as a Jewish boy, fled his native Germany ahead of the Nazis, survived the blitz in England at a school for refugees, and was reunited with his parents in the U.S., seven years later. “To me, what was more remarkable about my father was he’d gone through all that, and being run out of his country, barely escaping, and then being bombed, everything, and yet, he was always optimistic, he was always ready to tell a joke, he was always ready to start the next big thing. Never seemed to have dampened his spirits at all,” Steve said.

Scientists at UNM are working on multiple Mars missions. They have collaborations with the Museum of Natural History, Los Alamos National Lab, and NASA.