Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Two other Mars missions heating up


Radar mapping polar caps, impact craters

Two Mars orbiter missions — one from NASA, the other from the European Space Agency (ESA) — will open new vistas in the exploration of Mars through the use of sophisticated ground-penetrating radars, providing international researchers with the first direct clues about the Red Planet’s subsurface structure.

Roger Phillips, Ph.D., Washington University in St. Louis Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences in Arts & Sciences, is participating in both the Mars Express (ESA) and NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) missions by lending his expertise in radar. Phillips says that the combination of the radars on the two missions will provide important and unique data sets that will directly map the structure of the upper portions of the interior of Mars.

Mars Express features an instrument called the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionospheric Sounding (MARSIS); Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s radar instrument is called the Shallow Subsurface Radar (SHARAD). Both instruments have been built primarily by the Italian Space Agency, and, says Phillips, they are complementary.

Mars Express went into orbit on Christmas Day of 2003, but the radar developed some technical problems and didn’t start operating until the summer of 2005. One of the problems was making sure that the craft’s long antennas would unfold without damaging the spacecraft. This necessitated a full stop, followed by many hardware and computer simulations until confidence was gained that the antennas could be deployed safely. The first data were published in the journal Science late last year, with Phillips a co-author along with approximately 30 European and American colleagues.

"One of the spectacular results of that paper is the fact that we’ve sounded the northern polar cap of Mars, the radar signals penetrating all the way to the bottom of the icy cap and bouncing back so that we can see right down to the cap’s base, nearly two kilometers deep," Phillips says. "This result tells us that we will eventually be able to map the volume of both the northern and southern ice caps, which will provide a much better understanding of the origins and evolution of these features and the amount of water that is tied up frozen in the caps. The radar is looking inside the planet directly — that’s never been done before on Mars."

The northern cap data also provide the Mars Express team with the first direct observation of how the load of the ice cap deforms the planet’s underlying crust — a phenomenon called flexure. There is in fact no flexure observed within the error limits of the radar data, which means that the crust beneath the northern polar cap is very strong, says Phillips.

"That also tells us that the heat output of the planet at present is quite low. There have been theoretical models predicting this, but never a direct observation until now. "

Finding unfrozen subsurface water is a possibility, too; this is the Holy Grail of MARSIS, Phillips says.

"At the boundary of a water-rich environment we should see a very strong reflection. Whether we find such a reflector remains to be seen — we’re in the early days of gathering data. Right now MARSIS is carrying out a campaign to map the structure of the southern polar cap."

Phillips says that the MARSIS radar also has mapped buried impact craters, which should revise the theory of how old the martian crust is and how it evolved.

SHARAD will likely not probe as deeply as MARSIS, but it has ten times the vertical resolution, allowing for opportunities to map detailed subsurface stratigraphy, says Phillips, who is also director of Washington University’s McDonnell Center for the Space Sciences

The MRO spacecraft is now poised to go into orbit around Mars in March, and will then spend about six months aerobraking to place the spacecraft in a low circular orbit by this fall. This will mark the start of a two-year mapping campaign that NASA calls the primary science phase. Phillips is Deputy Team Leader for the MRO SHARAD experiment. The Team Leader is Roberto Seu, Ph.D., of the INFOCOM Department at the University of Rome, La Sapienza, Italy.

"I think that SHARAD will be an excellent mapper of the sedimentary layers on Mars, and that will help us better understand the water history of the planet, "Phillips says. "One of my hopes is to connect what SHARAD maps in the subsurface in the Terra Meridiani area to the sulfate-rich stratigraphy that has been seen there by the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) Opportunity. This will help place the local stratigraphy at the MER landing site into a more regional context and help refine hypotheses for the origins of these enigmatic sedimentary rocks."

Tony Fitzpatrick | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Sharpening the X-ray view of the nanocosm
23.03.2018 | Changchun Institute of Optics, Fine Mechanics and Physics

nachricht Drug or duplicate?
23.03.2018 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Angewandte Festkörperphysik IAF

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: Space observation with radar to secure Germany's space infrastructure

Satellites in near-Earth orbit are at risk due to the steady increase in space debris. But their mission in the areas of telecommunications, navigation or weather forecasts is essential for society. Fraunhofer FHR therefore develops radar-based systems which allow the detection, tracking and cataloging of even the smallest particles of debris. Satellite operators who have access to our data are in a better position to plan evasive maneuvers and prevent destructive collisions. From April, 25-29 2018, Fraunhofer FHR and its partners will exhibit the complementary radar systems TIRA and GESTRA as well as the latest radar techniques for space observation across three stands at the ILA Berlin.

The "traffic situation" in space is very tense: the Earth is currently being orbited not only by countless satellites but also by a large volume of space...

Im Focus: Researchers Discover New Anti-Cancer Protein

An international team of researchers has discovered a new anti-cancer protein. The protein, called LHPP, prevents the uncontrolled proliferation of cancer cells in the liver. The researchers led by Prof. Michael N. Hall from the Biozentrum, University of Basel, report in “Nature” that LHPP can also serve as a biomarker for the diagnosis and prognosis of liver cancer.

The incidence of liver cancer, also known as hepatocellular carcinoma, is steadily increasing. In the last twenty years, the number of cases has almost doubled...

Im Focus: Researchers at Fraunhofer monitor re-entry of Chinese space station Tiangong-1

In just a few weeks from now, the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere where it will to a large extent burn up. It is possible that some debris will reach the Earth's surface. Tiangong-1 is orbiting the Earth uncontrolled at a speed of approx. 29,000 km/h.Currently the prognosis relating to the time of impact currently lies within a window of several days. The scientists at Fraunhofer FHR have already been monitoring Tiangong-1 for a number of weeks with their TIRA system, one of the most powerful space observation radars in the world, with a view to supporting the German Space Situational Awareness Center and the ESA with their re-entry forecasts.

Following the loss of radio contact with Tiangong-1 in 2016 and due to the low orbital height, it is now inevitable that the Chinese space station will...

Im Focus: Alliance „OLED Licht Forum“ – Key partner for OLED lighting solutions

Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP, provider of research and development services for OLED lighting solutions, announces the founding of the “OLED Licht Forum” and presents latest OLED design and lighting solutions during light+building, from March 18th – 23rd, 2018 in Frankfurt a.M./Germany, at booth no. F91 in Hall 4.0.

They are united in their passion for OLED (organic light emitting diodes) lighting with all of its unique facets and application possibilities. Thus experts in...

Im Focus: Mars' oceans formed early, possibly aided by massive volcanic eruptions

Oceans formed before Tharsis and evolved together, shaping climate history of Mars

A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

New solar solutions for sustainable buildings and cities

23.03.2018 | Event News

Virtual reality conference comes to Reutlingen

19.03.2018 | Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

For graphite pellets, just add elbow grease

23.03.2018 | Materials Sciences

Unique communication strategy discovered in stem cell pathway controlling plant growth

23.03.2018 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

Sharpening the X-ray view of the nanocosm

23.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>