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Photo Quiz: California or Mars — can you tell them apart?

Mars's massive Mount Sharp may have formed billions of years ago as water carried sand and silt into the center of a large crater.
Can you guess where this photo was taken?

>>>Take the quiz

There's been a lot of news recently about water on Mars from evidence of ancient lakes to actual flows on hillsides. Meanwhile, a crippling drought is forcing us to rethink how we capture, store and use precious precipitation here in California.

Sure, California has a lot more drinkable liquid water than Mars, and we hope it stays that way. But we couldn't help but notice some similarities between the landscapes of the Red Planet and the Golden State. After all, JPL scientists use California's deserts as a stand in for testing Mars rovers.

Noted sci-fi author Kim Stanley Robinson said he based his depiction of the planet on one of his favorite parts of the state. "There is a sense in which my Mars is entirely a Sierra Nevada space," he explained in an interview with Boom magazine

How well can you tell these two arid places apart? Take this quiz to find out. No space suit required. When you're done testing your knowledge, be sure to share your score with us on Twitter, and scroll to the bottom of this article to see where exactly the photos were taken. 

California or Mars? You decide. 




This evenly layered rock photographed by the Mast Camera (Mastcam) on NASA's Curiosity Mars Rover shows a pattern typical of a lake-floor sedimentary deposit not far from where flowing water entered a lake. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS 

NO. 2 - MARS

This image from the Mast Camera (Mastcam) on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover looks to the west of the Kimberley waypoint on the rover's route to the base of Mount Sharp. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. 

NO. 3 - MARS

A view from the "Kimberley" formation on Mars taken by NASA's Curiosity rover. The strata in the foreground dip towards the base of Mount Sharp, indicating flow of water toward a basin that existed before the larger bulk of the mountain formed.


The San Gabriel River passes over mud in the dry upper reaches of San Gabriel Reservoir in the Angeles National Forest on January 22, 2014 in near Azusa, California. Image credit: David McNew/Stringer


The Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms Base, California. Image credit: Ken Lund via Creative Commons. 

NO. 6 - MARS

The slopes of Gale Crater as seen by Curiosity are reminiscent of the American southwest. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.


Devil's Golf Course. Formed by sharp salt crystals left by a dried lake in Death Valley National Park. Image credit: Brian via creative commons.

NO. 8 - MARS

Sunset on Mars seen by the MER Spirit from Gusev Crater in 2005 Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. 


The Cadiz Dunes Wilderness is located in a remote corner of the Mojave Desert about 12 miles south of Cadiz and historic Route 66. The area is accessible year-round, but summer temperatures can soar to 120 degrees in the dunes so winter and spring are better times to visit. Image credit: Bob Wick, BLM via Creative Commons


A look at the surface of the dry lakebed at Edwards where the space shuttle lands along with various other aircraft on occasion. Image credit: Brian Reynolds via Creative Commons. 

NO. 11 - MARS

This composite image looking toward the higher regions of Mount Sharp was taken on September 9, 2015, by NASA's Curiosity rover. 


Death Valley in 2011. Image credit: Daniel Swain


Badland formations at Zabriskie Point. Image credit: Jean-Christophe BENOIST via Wikimedia CC. 

NO. 14 - MARS

Self-portrait of the Curiosity over in Gale crater on Mars. Part of Mount Sharp is in the background. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.