Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

HiRISE Camera Details Dynamic Wind Action on Mars

24.01.2008
Mars has an ethereal, tenuous atmosphere at less than 1 percent the surface pressure of Earth, so scientists working on The University of Arizona's High Resolution Imaging Experiment, or HiRISE, are challenged to explain the complex, wind-sculpted landforms they're now seeing in unprecedented detail.

The HiRISE camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the most powerful camera to orbit another planet, can see 20-inch-diameter features while flying at about 7,500 mph between 155 and 196 miles above the Martian surface. HiRISE is giving researchers eye-opening new views of wind-driven Mars geology.

One of the main questions has been if winds on present-day Mars are strong enough to form and change geological features, or if wind-constructed formations were made in the past, perhaps when winds speeds and atmospheric pressures were higher, HiRISE team members say.

"We're seeing what look like smaller sand bedforms on the tops of larger dunes, and, when we zoom in more, a third set of bedforms topping those,"

HiRISE co-investigator Nathan Bridges of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said. "On Earth, small bedforms can form and change on time scales as short as a day."

There are two kinds of "bedforms," or wind-deposited landforms. They can be sand dunes, which are typically larger and have distinct shapes. Or they can be ripples, which is sand mixed with coarser, millimeter-sized particles.

Ripples are typically smaller, more linear structures.

HiRISE also shows detail in sediments deposited by winds on the lee side of rocks. Such rock "windtails" show which way the most current winds have blown, Bridges said. Such features have been seen before, but only by rovers and landers, never an orbiting camera. Researchers can now use HiRISE images to infer wind directions over the entire planet.

Scientists discovered miles-long, wind-scoured ridges called "yardangs" with the first Mars orbiter, Mariner 9, in the early 1970s, Bridges said. New HiRISE images reveal surface texture and fine-scale features that are giving scientists insight on how yardangs form.

"HiRISE is showing us just how interesting layers in yardangs are," Bridges said. "For example, we see one layer that appears to have rocks in it. You can actually see rocks in the layer, and if you look downslope, you can see rocks that we think have eroded out from that rocky layer above."

HiRISE shows that some layers in the yardangs are made of softer materials that have been modified by wind, he added. The soft material could be volcanic ash deposits, or the dried up remnants of what once were mixtures of ice and dust, or something else.

"The fact that we see layers that appear to be rocky and layers that are obviously soft says that the process that formed yardangs is no simple process but a complicated sequence of processes," Bridges said.

Scientists since the 1970s Viking missions have puzzled over what appears to be dust covering Mars' 6-to-13-mile-high volcanoes. Near the volcanic summits, the air is about one one-thousandth of Earth's atmospheric pressure.

"HiRISE keeps showing interesting things about terrains that I expected to be uninteresting," said HiRISE principal investigator Alfred McEwen of the UA's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. "I was surprised by the diversity of morphology of the thick dust mantles. Instead of a uniform blanket of smooth dust, there are often intricate patterns due to the action of the wind and perhaps light cementation from atmospheric volatiles."

HiRISE images show that what covers the slopes of the high Martian volcanoes are definitely dunes or ripples that appear to have an organized 'reticulate' structure possibly formed by winds blowing from multiple directions, Bridges said.

"On Earth, winds blowing from many different directions form what are called 'star dunes,' and these look somewhat like those," Bridges said. "The reticulate surface looks like a network of connected wind-blown dunes and ripples.

"The fact that the air pressure near the volcano tops is so low and the material is dust challenges us to understand what these features are," he said. "Perhaps the dust is clumping together and making sand-size material.

But how this stuff can be blown around this low pressure is at the edge of our understanding of aeolian physics.

"Possibly the bedforms on the volcanoes formed under a different Martian climate in the past, when atmospheric density was greater," Bridges said.

"But I'm not sure that's the case, because you can see evidence that a lot of the mantle appears to be fairly recent."

HiRISE team member Paul Geissler of the U.S. Geological Survey, in Flagstaff, Ariz., has discovered from HiRISE images that dark streaks coming from Victoria Crater are probably streaks of dark sand blown out from the crater onto the surface. Scientists had wondered if wind might have blown away lighter-colored surface material, exposing a darker underlying surface.

Geissler, a member of the Mars Exploration Rover team, is comparing HiRISE images with images the Opportunity rover has taken at Victoria Crater.

Bridges is lead author on the paper titled "Windy Mars: A dynamic planet as seen by the HiRISE camera" in the Geophysical Research letters in December.

McEwen is among the paper's co-authors.

Information about the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft is online at http://www.nasa.gov/mro. The mission is managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology, for the NASA Science Mission Directorate. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, based in Denver, is the prime contractor and built the spacecraft. Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp., of Boulder, Colo., built the HiRISE camera operated by the UA.

CONTACT: Nathan Bridges (818-393-7799; nathan.bridges@jpl.nasa.gov) Alfred McEwen (520-621-4573; mcewen@pirl.lpl.arizona.edu)

Lori Stiles | University of Arizona
Further information:
http://www.arizona.edu
http://www.nasa.gov/mro

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht NASA detects solar flare pulses at Sun and Earth
17.11.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

nachricht Pluto's hydrocarbon haze keeps dwarf planet colder than expected
16.11.2017 | University of California - Santa Cruz

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: A “cosmic snake” reveals the structure of remote galaxies

The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.

Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...

Im Focus: Visual intelligence is not the same as IQ

Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.

That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...

Im Focus: Novel Nano-CT device creates high-resolution 3D-X-rays of tiny velvet worm legs

Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.

During a CT analysis, the object under investigation is x-rayed and a detector measures the respective amount of radiation absorbed from various angles....

Im Focus: Researchers Develop Data Bus for Quantum Computer

The quantum world is fragile; error correction codes are needed to protect the information stored in a quantum object from the deteriorating effects of noise. Quantum physicists in Innsbruck have developed a protocol to pass quantum information between differently encoded building blocks of a future quantum computer, such as processors and memories. Scientists may use this protocol in the future to build a data bus for quantum computers. The researchers have published their work in the journal Nature Communications.

Future quantum computers will be able to solve problems where conventional computers fail today. We are still far away from any large-scale implementation,...

Im Focus: Wrinkles give heat a jolt in pillared graphene

Rice University researchers test 3-D carbon nanostructures' thermal transport abilities

Pillared graphene would transfer heat better if the theoretical material had a few asymmetric junctions that caused wrinkles, according to Rice University...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Ecology Across Borders: International conference brings together 1,500 ecologists

15.11.2017 | Event News

Road into laboratory: Users discuss biaxial fatigue-testing for car and truck wheel

15.11.2017 | Event News

#Berlin5GWeek: The right network for Industry 4.0

30.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

NASA detects solar flare pulses at Sun and Earth

17.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

NIST scientists discover how to switch liver cancer cell growth from 2-D to 3-D structures

17.11.2017 | Health and Medicine

The importance of biodiversity in forests could increase due to climate change

17.11.2017 | Studies and Analyses

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>