HiRISE: Icy layers in craters

ESP_053642_2225Scientists now realize that ice is very common on the Martian surface. It often fills up craters and valleys in the mid-latitudes in older climates, although when it’s covered in dust it can be hard to recognize. Today the climate on Mars makes this ice unstable and some of it has evaporated away.

In this image we can see the edge of a mound of ice in one of these mid-latitude craters. Some of it has already been removed, so we can see layering that used to be in the crater’s interior. Scientists use ice deposits like these to figure out how the climate has changed on Mars. Another upside of recognizing this ice is that future astronauts will have plenty of drinking water. [More at link]

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THEMIS: Rubble from both sides in Ius Chasma

Spanning Ius Chasma (THEMIS_IOTD_20180219)THEMIS Image of the Day, February 19, 2018. The VIS image shows part of the western end of Ius Chasma. Both the north and south canyon walls are visible in this image.

At the top of the frame paired faults have created a graben. On the southern face of the canyon, several linear faults parallel the graben. These faults are part of the tectonic formation of Valles Marineris. Landslides on both walls created deposits on the crater floor. The easiest to identify is the lobate margin at the right side of the images. Lobate margins and radial surface grooves are common features in low volume landslides.

A landslide is a failure of slope due to gravity. They initiate due to several reasons. A lower layer of poorly cemented/resistant material may have been eroded, undermining the wall above which then collapses; earthquake seismic waves can cause the slope to collapse; and even an impact event near the canyon wall can cause collapse.

As millions of tons of material fall and slide down slope a scalloped cavity forms at the upper part where the slope failure occurred. At the material speeds downhill it will pick up more of the underlying slope, increasing the volume of material entrained into the landslide. Whereas some landslides spread across the canyon floor forming lobate deposits, very large volume slope failures will completely fill the canyon floor in a large complex region of chaotic blocks.

Ius Chasma is at the western end of Valles Marineris, south of Tithonium Chasma. Valles Marineris is over 4000 kilometers long, wider than the United States. Ius Chasma is almost 850 kilometers long (528 miles), 120 kilometers wide and over 8 kilometers deep. In comparison, the Grand Canyon in Arizona is about 175 kilometers long, 30 kilometers wide, and only 2 kilometers deep.

The canyons of Valles Marineris were formed by extensive fracturing and pulling apart of the crust during the uplift of the vast Tharsis plateau. Landslides have enlarged the canyon walls and created deposits on the canyon floor. Weathering of the surface and influx of dust and sand have modified the canyon floor, both creating and modifying layered materials. There are many features that indicate flowing and standing water played a part in the chasma formation.

NASA’s Mars Odyssey spacecraft has spent over 15 years in orbit around Mars, circling the planet more than 71,000 times. It holds the record for longest working spacecraft at Mars. THEMIS, the IR/VIS camera system, has collected data for the entire mission and provides images covering all seasons and lighting conditions.

Over the years many features of interest have received repeated imaging, building up a suite of images covering the entire feature. From the deepest chasma to the tallest volcano, individual dunes inside craters and dune fields that encircle the north pole, channels carved by water and lava, and a variety of other feature, THEMIS has imaged them all.

For the next several months the Image of the Day will focus on the Tharsis volcanoes, the various chasmata of Valles Marineris, and the major dune fields. We hope you enjoy these images!

More THEMIS Images of the Day by geological topic.

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Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in safe mode

mro-concept-browseNASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), at Mars since 2006, put itself into a precautionary standby mode on Feb. 15 in response to sensing an unexpectedly low battery voltage.

The orbiter is solar-powered but relies on a pair of nickel-hydrogen batteries during periods when it is in the shadow of Mars for a portion of each orbit. The two are used together, maintaining almost identical charge during normal operations.

The spacecraft remains in communication with Earth and has been maintaining safe, stable temperatures and power, but has suspended its science observations and its service as a communications relay for Mars rovers. Normal voltage has been restored, and the spacecraft is being monitored continuously until the troubleshooting is complete.

“We’re in the diagnostic stage, to better understand the behavior of the batteries and ways to give ourselves more options for managing them in the future,” said MRO Project Manager Dan Johnston of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. “We will restore MRO’s service as a relay for other missions as soon as we can do so with confidence in spacecraft safety — likely in about one week. After that, we will resume science observations.” [More at link]

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Curiosity update: Dumping Ogunquit Beach sample

1966MH0007310010704594C00_DXXX-br2Sols 1968-70, February 16, 2018, update by MSL scientist Ken Herkenhoff: We got lots of good news this morning: The DRT brushing of the potential drill target [at right] completed successfully, as did SAM’s recent analysis of the Ogunquit Beach sample, and the rover is healthy and ready for more! So the weekend plan is focused on dumping the last of the Ogunquit Beach sand out of CHIMRA, which is necessary before we can test the new feed-extended drilling technique. But first, on Sol 1968, Navcam will perform a sky survey and search for clouds, as this is the cloudy season on Mars. Then ChemCam and Right Mastcam will observe bedrock targets “Smoo Cave” and “St. Andrews” to sample the nearby chemical diversity. Sol 1969 will be a busy day for MSL, starting with more ChemCam and Right Mastcam bedrock observations, this time of “Yesnaby” and “Dingwall.” Then the arm will get to… [More at link]

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5,000 days on Mars

PIA22221_hiresThe Sun will rise on NASA’s solar-powered Mars rover Opportunity for the 5,000th time on Saturday, sending rays of energy to a golf-cart-size robotic field geologist that continues to provide revelations about the Red Planet.

“Five thousand sols after the start of our 90-sol mission, this amazing rover is still showing us surprises on Mars,” said Opportunity Project Manager John Callas, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

A Martian “sol” lasts about 40 minutes longer than an Earth day, and a Martian year lasts nearly two Earth years. Opportunity’s Sol 1 was landing day, Jan. 25, 2004 (that’s in Universal Time; it was Jan. 24 in California). The prime mission was planned to last 90 sols. NASA did not expect the rover to survive through a Martian winter. Sol 5,000 will begin early Friday, Universal Time, with the 4,999th dawn a few hours later. Opportunity has worked actively right through the lowest-energy months of its eighth Martian winter.

From the rover’s perspective on the inside slope of the western rim of Endeavour Crater, the milestone sunrise will appear over the basin’s eastern rim, about 14 miles (22 kilometers) away. Opportunity has driven over 28 miles (45 kilometers) from its landing site to its current location about one-third of the way down “Perseverance Valley,” a shallow channel incised from the rim’s crest of the crater’s floor. The rover has returned about 225,000 images, all promptly made public online.

“We’ve reached lots of milestones, and this is one more,” Callas said, “but more important than the numbers are the exploration and the scientific discoveries.” [More at link]

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Curiosity update: Studying a potential drill target

1964MR0102670010901592E01_DXXX-br2Sols 1966-67, February 15, 2018, update by MSL scientist Ken Herkenhoff: We are planning 2 sols today to get a head start on the holiday weekend planning. We had several options today, including mobility and contact science with or without brushing, which made for an interesting day for me as SOWG Chair. Early in planning, we decided not to move and that our top priority is to brush and investigate a potential drill target just to the right of the Newmachar brush spot. The drill target cannot be finalized today, but the area to be brushed on Sol 1966, centered at “Lake Orcadie,” is likely to include the drill target. Before the DRT is used on Lake Orcadie, ChemCam will measure its elemental composition at 9 points in a 3×3 raster and MAHLI will take images from 25 and 5 cm above the surface. ChemCam will also shoot its laser at another contact science target named “Forties,” which should clean some of the dust… [More at link]

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HiRISE: Stranger (crater) things

tumblr_p497l6g5k01rlz4gso1_1280Stranger (crater) things. Could this deposit at the bottom of an impact crater be a relic of glacial features?

Beautiful Mars series.

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THEMIS: Chaotic debris in Tithonium Chasma

Chaotic debris on Tithonium Chasma floor (THEMIS_IOTD_20180216)THEMIS Image of the Day, February 16, 2018. In this VIS image of Tithonium Chasma both sides of the chasma are visible. In this narrow and deep part of the chasma exist both large, chaotic block landslide deposits with smaller lobate shaped landslide deposits on top.

Tithonium Chasma has numerous large landslide deposits. The resistant material of the plateau surface forms the linear ridges of the canyon wall. Large landslides have changed the walls and floor of the canyon. A landslide is a failure of slope due to gravity. They initiate due to several reasons. A lower layer of poorly cemented/resistant material may have been eroded, undermining the wall above which then collapses; earth quake seismic waves can cause the slope to collapse; and even an impact event near the canyon wall can cause collapse.

As millions of tons of material fall and slide down slope a scalloped cavity forms at the upper part where the slope failure occurred. At the material speeds downhill it will pick up more of the underlying slope, increasing the volume of material entrained into the landslide. Whereas some landslides spread across the canyon floor forming lobate deposits, very large volume slope failures will completely fill the canyon floor in a large complex region of chaotic blocks.

Tithonium Chasma is at the western end of Valles Marineris. Valles Marineris is over 4000 kilometers long, wider than the United States. Tithonium Chasma is almost 810 kilometers long (499 miles), 50 kilometers wide, and over 6 kilometers deep. In comparison, the Grand Canyon in Arizona is about 175 kilometers long, 30 kilometers wide, and only 2 kilometers deep.

The canyons of Valles Marineris were formed by extensive fracturing and pulling apart of the crust during the uplift of the vast Tharsis plateau. Landslides have enlarged the canyon walls and created deposits on the canyon floor. Weathering of the surface and influx of dust and sand have modified the canyon floor.

NASA’s Mars Odyssey spacecraft has spent over 15 years in orbit around Mars, circling the planet more than 71,000 times. It holds the record for longest working spacecraft at Mars. THEMIS, the IR/VIS camera system, has collected data for the entire mission and provides images covering all seasons and lighting conditions.

Over the years many features of interest have received repeated imaging, building up a suite of images covering the entire feature. From the deepest chasma to the tallest volcano, individual dunes inside craters and dune fields that encircle the north pole, channels carved by water and lava, and a variety of other feature, THEMIS has imaged them all.

For the next several months the Image of the Day will focus on the Tharsis volcanoes, the various chasmata of Valles Marineris, and the major dune fields. We hope you enjoy these images!

More THEMIS Images of the Day by geological topic.

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Opportunity: ‘Rock stripes’ and other surprises

PIA22217_hiresNASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity keeps providing surprises about the Red Planet, most recently with observations of possible “rock stripes.”

The ground texture seen in recent images from the rover resembles a smudged version of very distinctive stone stripes on some mountain slopes on Earth that result from repeated cycles of freezing and thawing of wet soil. But it might also be due to wind, downhill transport, other processes or a combination.

Opportunity landed on Mars in January 2004. As it reaches the 5,000th Martian day, or sol, of what was planned as a 90-sol mission, it is investigating a channel called “Perseverance Valley,” which descends the inboard slope of the western rim of Endeavour Crater.

“Perseverance Valley is a special place, like having a new mission again after all these years,” said Opportunity Deputy Principal Investigator Ray Arvidson of Washington University in St. Louis. “We already knew it was unlike any place any Mars rover has seen before, even if we don’t yet know how it formed, and now we’re seeing surfaces that look like stone stripes. It’s mysterious. It’s exciting. I think the set of observations we’ll get will enable us to understand it.”

On some slopes within the valley, the soil and gravel particles appear to have become organized into narrow rows or corrugations, parallel to the slope, alternating between rows with more gravel and rows with less. [More at link]

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Curiosity update: Torrid(on) pace

1963ML0102590010605378E01_DXXX-br2Sol 1965, February 14, 2018, update by MSL scientist Michelle Minitti: For the last several months, the science, engineering and operations teams have only met three days a week to plan activities for Curiosity in order to give the engineers more time to focus on bringing the drill back online. This week, we returned to planning five days a week as we continue to traverse east across the “Vera Rubin Ridge” within the Torridon quadrangle, and it feels like the sols (and blogs!) are flying by at rapid speed! Curiosity remained at the same patch of bedrock she has been at all week, a great spot to sit still at while SAM conducts geochronology analyses of the “Ogunquit Beach” sand sample. Before SAM kicks off overnight, Curiosity will acquire a 360 degree mosaic with Mastcam (always a stunning… [More at link]

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