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Out of this world

10:41 AM  Feb 11th, 2015
by Molly Blake '96

Once a month, Rose Burkhart Hayward ’76 treks out to a remote area northeast of Flagstaff, Arizona. There she examines a windswept hazel-colored sand dune field that’s been creeping across the desert some 30 meters a year. The vast, desolate area looks a lot like the surface of Mars. In fact, that’s exactly why Hayward, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, is out there.

“By studying the dunes here on earth, we can better understand the atmosphere, the weather and the climate on Mars,” Hayward said. She and her team also test instruments that someday might be used on Mars, a dream for the farm girl raised in Defiance, Ohio.

“As a geologist, there’s nothing better than being in the field,” Hayward said. “You can theorize all you want, but seeing our planet in action is an invaluable learning experience.”

Her journey to the Grand Canyon state began when the first-year science major bumped into George Springer, then the chair of UD’s geology department, while wandering around the science building. “He convinced me geology was the field to study,” Hayward said. After graduation, Hayward completed a master’s degree from the University of Cincinnati and headed west, where she’s been ever since.

Besides researching dunes on earth and mapping dunes on Mars, Hayward also manages the massive Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature database. Since 1919, the scientific community has been cataloguing the names of craters, mountain ranges, bodies of water and other features on planets, planetary rings and moons. What’s in a name?  A lot.

“It’s an amazingly complex job,” Hayward said. Once a discovery is made, a name is suggested, debated by a committee and eventually formalized. The 15,000-plus names have deep roots in various cultures and countries, like a crater on Mars that was recently named Esira after a town in Madagascar.

And although Hayward, an avid hiker and outdoorswoman, isn’t soaring into space anytime soon, she’s not complaining about the views.

“It’s so beautiful here.”

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