Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Antarctica and Mars

Hi! My name is Noah Conley and I am a rising sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) double majoring in Astrophysics and Geophysics & Planetary Science. Unlike my coworkers in BURECS who work with ancient ash, crystals, or the workings of Earth, I research Mars. My goals for this summer are to expand on the surface feature inventory for Mars, to hone my GIS skills, and to learn more about Martian topography, as that may be helpful considering my majors.

        To attain the appropriate background I read a few (and when I say a few I mean what felt like an ungodly amount of) research papers and analyzed a few (again, not really) maps of certain areas on Mars. The papers covered topics such as the terrain inside of craters, ancient glacial activity on Mars, how the planet’s surface was changed by the glaciation and deglaciation, and more. The papers are rather dense, but they provide valuable insight and information for my project. For example, I learned that certain facies (surface feature regimes formed under unique conditions) are indicative of ice and the relevant process which formed those features. I also learned to distinguish similar looking features from each other and that the McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica are the closest analog on Earth to the Martian landscape. When I needed a break from the readings I assisted with the backlog of slides from the Antarctic expeditions.

       When Dr. Marchant began his work in Antarctica in 1986 the only way to take pictures was with a film camera. They used this camera to capture images of the landscape, work sites, glaciers, and much more. The film was put in individual slides so that they can be organized in any desired fashion. Therefore, when I scanned the slides it was critically important that I kept the slides in the correct order to avoid confusing the work sites and locations between Dr. Marchant's field seasons. 
Two mahogany boxes used to store slides with the bottom one open to show slides

The slide is held up to the window to reveal the image on the film. The picture is from the 1999 expedition.

       The next stage of my work was analyzing various locations on Mars and looking for the features described in the papers that I had read.I began downloading high resolution images of Mars and mapping them in the program Arc Map. Specifically, I looked at images from the region north west of Arsia Mons, the southern-most mountain in Tharsis Montes on Mars (, located about the equator. I was looking in this region to confirm the conclusions made in one of the papers that I had read, which stated that there were certain features observable in that region, indicating the presence of glaciers in the area millions of years ago. I came to similar conclusions as the authors of the papers discussing the Arsia Mons region and am reading more papers to learn about more occurrences that shape Martian terrain.
Pictures of region west of Arsia Mons sewn together with available high resolution images shown in orange or red rectangles (source: Google Earth)
         Following these days of analyzing Western Arsia Mons, I have been mapping Pavonis Mons, located to north and east of Arsia Mons in the Tharsis Montes, and the surrounding area. Features similar to those observed to the west of Arsia Mons indicate that glacial activity did occur north of Pavonis Mons, like it did to the west of Arsia Mons. I am now working with elevation maps and the images I've downloaded (seen below) to conduct further analysis of the region. 

Downloaded high resolution images layered with an elevation map (from low to high elevation: white/green, light green, dark green, yellow, red, dark red, grey)

       Personally, I think my work is a lot cooler and more important than it probably is. While the colonization of Mars is still a dream, in my opinion it is the future. To me, my work here helps pave the way for those who will walk the surface of Mars in the future. If you live on a planet, it's probably helpful to know what is there, what there is to work with, and what you may encounter. While it may be time consuming, I look forward to not only the work I will continue to do this summer, but also in the years to come.


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