While Mars is known as the Red Planet, a variety of colors can be found on the planet’s surface. Just like on Earth, the array of colors we can see in images from Mars comes from the diverse minerals on or just under the surface.
In the case of this picture, subsurface minerals show up in gullies that have eroded down the side of a a giant sand dune.
All across the Martian surface, there are preserved features that tell the story of what Mars once looked like. These include channels that were carved by flowing water, delta fans where water deposited sediment over time, and lakebeds where clay and hydrated minerals are found. In addition to telling us more about Mars’ past, the study of these features can tell us about how Mars made the transition to what it is today.
According to new research led by Brown Ph.D. student Ben Boatwright, an unnamed Martian crater in Mars southern highlands showed features that indicate the presence of water, but there is no indication of how it got there. Along with Brown professor Jim Head (his advisor), they concluded that the crater’s features are likely the result of runoff from a Martian glacier that once occupied the area.
This week we are joined by Dr. Ingrid Daubar, Planetary Scientist from Brown University studying impact cratering within our solar system. Dr. Daubar is part of a team that has been using a new AI classification tool to identify geologic features on planetary surfaces, such as Mars.
Impact craters have been called the “poor geologists’ drill,” since they allow scientists to look beneath to the subsurface of a planet without actually digging down. It’s estimated that Mars has over 600,000 craters, so there’s plenty of opportunity to peer into the Red Planet’s strata – especially with the incredible HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) camera on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter which has been orbiting and studying Mars from above since 2006.
Does the life of an astronomer or planetary scientists seem exciting?
Sitting in an observatory, sipping warm cocoa, with high-tech tools at your disposal as you work diligently, surfing along on the wavefront of human knowledge, surrounded by fine, bright people. Then one day—Eureka!—all your hard work and the work of your colleagues pays off, and you deliver to humanity a critical piece of knowledge. A chunk of knowledge that settles a scientific debate, or that ties a nice bow on a burgeoning theory, bringing it all together. Conferences…tenure…Nobel Prize?
Well, maybe in your first year of university you might imagine something like that. But science is work. And as we all know, not every minute of one’s working life is super-exciting and gratifying.
NASA has repeatedly imaged the Martian surface, and sometimes a feature appears that wasn’t there in prior images. That’s what happened when a meteorite survived the plunge through Mars’ thin atmosphere sometime between February and July, 2005. It created this impact crater north of Valles Marineris.