THEMIS: Steinheim Crater

Steinheim, textbook crater in Arcadia (THEMIS_IOTD_20160524)THEMIS Image of the Day, May 24, 2016. Today’s VIS image shows Steinheim Crater, located in Arcadia Planitia. This is a relatively pristine crater with a double layer ejecta blanket and a minimally modified crater interior.

More THEMIS Images of the Day by geological topic.

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ExoMars: Dusty arrival for Schiaparelli lander?

57828_ExoMars2016_TGO_EDM_Separated_Approach_20160218_565x318In October 2016, the Schiaparelli capsule, also known as the Entry, Descent and Landing Demonstrator Module (EDM), is scheduled to make the first landing on Mars by an ESA spacecraft. Will it be greeted by a raging dust storm? What impacts could such a storm have on the historic mission?

Fine dust is found everywhere on Mars. Even the sky appears orange because of suspended dust particles. Although the air is very thin – only about 1% as dense as Earth’s atmosphere at sea level – strong winds are capable of picking up the smaller particles and lifting them many kilometres above the surface. They can also cause larger sand grains to bounce along the surface, dislodging other grains and, in time, contributing to the erosion of surfaces with which they come into contact.

There are countless localised dust storms during a Martian year. Most of these are associated with low-pressure systems or occur near the edges of the polar ice caps, where cold air meets warmer air over ice-free ground. Innumerable localised whirlwinds, known as dust devils, also pick up loose material as they sweep across the surface. [More at link]

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HiRISE: Lineated terrain

tumblr_o7394grfwZ1rlz4gso2_1280Lineated terrain — At first glance, these appear as ridges, but a closer inspection shows  patterned ground on a (roughly) level surface. In the absence of a slope, how did these form?

Beautiful Mars series.

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Curiosity update: A smoother route

NLB_517071516EDR_F0541490CCAM15900M_-br2Sol 1348-49, May 20, 2016, update from USGS scientist Ryan Anderson: Our drive on Sol 1346 was successful and brought us to a location with a view of the rugged ridges of the area we’ve been calling “Fracture Town”. In fact, from our current location, we decided that those ridges may be a bit too rough for comfort, so we are planning a slight change in course that will take us a bit south of our original path. The new path should be smoother and will also give us a better view of the contact between the Stimson and Murray units.

But before we set off on this revised path, we have some science to do at our current location! On Sol 1348, ChemCam has observations on the targets “Meob”, “Nomeib”, and “Munutum”. Mastcam will take documentation images of… [More at link]

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Opportunity: South floor dunes, Endeavour Crater

4380-pancamFCSol 4380, May 20, 2016. The rover’s Pancam took a pair of multi-filtered frames looking southeast from the head of Marathon Valley. The target was the fields of dunes on the crater floor. Reconstructed into false-color by Holger Isenberg, the distinct difference in color between the floor material (and its dark dunes) and the interior rim shows that they have different materials on the surface. Click image to enlarge.

Opportunity raw images, its latest mission status, a location map. and atmospheric opacity, known as tau.

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HiRISE: Depression in Lyot Crater ejecta

tumblr_o74lrlPBNV1rlz4gso2_1280A depression in the ejecta of Lyot Crater. Beautiful Mars series.

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Mars mystery plumes caused by space weather?

Mystery_plume_on_Mars_mediumMysterious high-rise clouds seen appearing suddenly in the martian atmosphere on a handful of occasions may be linked to space weather, say Mars Express scientists. [The results are published in the Journal of Geophysical Research.]

Amateur astronomers using telescopes on Earth were the first to report an unusual cloud-like plume in 2012 that topped-out high above the surface of Mars at an altitude around 250 km. The feature developed in less than 10 hours, covered an area of up to 1000 x 500 km, and remained visible for around 10 days.

The extreme altitude poses something of a problem in explaining the features: it is far higher than where typical clouds of frozen carbon dioxide and water are thought to be able to form in the atmosphere.

Indeed, the high altitude corresponds to the ionosphere, where the atmosphere directly interacts with the incoming solar wind of electrically charged atomic particles. [More at link]

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THEMIS: Olympia Undae

Sea of sand in Olympia Undae (THEMIS_IOTD_20160523)THEMIS Image of the Day, May 23, 2016. This VIS image shows a small portion of Olympia Undae. Olympia Undae is the largest dune field at the margin of the north polar cap. This image was collected during northern hemisphere summer.

More THEMIS Images of the Day by geological topic.

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HiRISE: Frosted dunes

ESP_045311_1205Sand dunes cover much of this terrain, which has large boulders lying on flat areas between the dunes.

It is now late winter here in the Southern hemisphere, and these dunes are just getting enough sunlight to start defrosting their seasonal cover of carbon dioxide. Spots form where pressurized carbon dioxide gas escapes to the surface. [More at link]

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THEMIS: Arabia Terra channel

Sediment filled Arabia Terra channel (THEMIS_IOTD_20160520)THEMIS Image of the Day, May 20, 2016. This VIS image shows a portion of an unnamed channel located on the northern margin of Arabia Terra. Numerous channels are found in this region, draining from the higher elevations of Arabia Terra to the lower elevations of Acidalia Planitia.

More THEMIS Images of the Day by geological topic.

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HiRISE: Bedrock on floor of Bakhuysen Crater

ESP_044981_1560This HiRISE image shows an exposure of bedrock on the floor of Bakhuysen Crater, a 150-kilometer diameter impact crater in Noachis Terra. The bedrock is highly fragmented and fractured. The distinct false-color in the image may indicate that the tan-colored, fractured bedrock may have been altered in the presence of water.

The location of this bedrock and context of its surroundings give us significant clues to the possible water-involved origin of these materials. Numerous channels are carved into the rim of the crater. At this particular location… [More at link]

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Mega-tsunamis likely altered Mars landscape

figure-1aThe geologic shape of what were once shorelines through Mars’ northern plains convinces scientists that two large meteorites – hitting the planet millions of years apart – triggered a pair of mega-tsunamis. These gigantic waves forever scarred the Martian landscape and yielded evidence of cold, salty oceans conducive to sustaining life.

“About 3.4 billion years ago, a big meteorite impact triggered the first tsunami wave. This wave was composed of liquid water. It formed widespread backwash channels to carry the water back to the ocean,” said Alberto Fairén, Cornell visiting scientist in astronomy and principal investigator at the Center of Astrobiology, Madrid.

Fairén, who with lead author Alexis Rodriguez of the Planetary Science Institute and 12 others, published their work in Scientific Reports (May 19), a publication of the journal Nature. [The paper is open-access and freely available without logging in.]

The scientists found evidence for another big meteorite impact, which triggered a second tsunami wave. In the millions of years between the two meteorite impacts and their associated mega-tsunamis, Mars went through frigid climate change, where water turned to ice, Fairén said: “The ocean level receded from its original shoreline to form a secondary shoreline, because the climate had become significantly colder.” [More at links above, and here]

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Opportunity: Where we’re at

4379-navcamSol 4379, May 19, 2016. The rover is slowly exploring the head of Marathon Valley, where the rocks show evidence (detected from orbit by CRISM) of alteration by water, which produced clay minerals. This Navcam view (click to enlarge) looks east down the valley, with the floor of Endeavour Crater and its far rim visible in the distance.

Opportunity raw images, its latest mission status, a location map. and atmospheric opacity, known as tau.

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Hubble takes Mars image near closest approach

160519140609_1_540x360Bright, frosty polar caps, and clouds above a vivid, rust-colored landscape reveal Mars as a dynamic seasonal planet in this NASA Hubble Space Telescope view taken on May 12, 2016, when Mars was 50 million miles from Earth. The Hubble image reveals details as small as 20 to 30 miles across.

The large, dark region at far right is Syrtis Major Planitia, one of the first features identified on the surface of the planet by seventeenth century observers. Christiaan Huygens used this feature to measure the rotation rate of Mars. (A Martian day is about 24 hours and 37 minutes.) Today we know that Syrtis Major is an ancient, inactive shield volcano. Late-afternoon clouds surround its summit in this view. [More at link]

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Curiosity update: Onward to Fracture Town

NRB_516816991EDR_F0541238NCAM07753M_-br2Sol 1346-47, May 19, 2016, update from USGS scientist Ryan Anderson: We are coming up on the edge of Naukluft plateau (again!). The plan for Sol 1346 starts off with ChemCam observations of the targets “Etusis” and “Etiro”, to continue measuring the variations in silica abundance around large fractures. Mastcam has a context image of these two targets, plus a mosaic looking ahead to an area we’ve been calling “Fracture Town”. After that, the rover will drive and do standard post-drive imaging, plus CheMin will do… [More at link]

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