Saturday, July 27, 2013

Small Pale Red Planet Issue 1 Phase 7


The North Pole - Mare Boreum Region


Topographical Map


Mars North Pole.

This Region covers all of the Martian surface north of latitude 65°. It includes the north polar ice cap, which has a swirl pattern and is roughly 1,100 km across. Mariner 9 in 1972 discovered a belt of sand dunes that ring the polar ice deposits, which is 500 km across in some places and may be the largest dune field in the solar system. The ice cap is surrounded by the vast plains of Planum Boreum and Vastitas Borealis. Close to the pole,  there is a large valley, Chasma Boreale, that may have been formed from water melting from the ice cap. An alternative view is that it was made by winds coming off the cold pole. Another prominent feature is a smooth rise, called Olympia Planitia. In the summer, a dark collar around the residual cap becomes visible; it is mostly caused by dunes.


Spring –Summer Ice on North Pole

The Region includes some very large craters that stand out in the north because the area is smooth with little change in topography. These large craters are Lomonosov and Korolev. Although smaller, the crater Stokes is also prominent.

Planum Boreum

The ground of the Planum Boreum mixed with ice and sand.

Planum Boreum (Latin: "the northern plain") is the northern polar plain on Mars. It extends northward from roughly 80°N. Surrounding the high polar plain is a flat and featureless lowland plain called Vastitas Borealis which extends for approximately 1500 kilometers southwards, dominating the northern hemisphere.


Mars polar image

Viking mosaic Mare Boreum and surrounding areas southward

The planet Mars has two permanent polar ice caps. During a pole's winter, it lies in continuous darkness, chilling the surface and causing the deposition of 25–30% of the atmosphere into slabs of CO2 ice (dry ice). When the poles are again exposed to sunlight, the frozen CO2 sublimes, creating enormous winds that sweep off the poles as fast as 400 km/h. These seasonal actions transport large amounts of dust and water vapor, giving rise to Earth-like frost and large cirrus clouds. Clouds of water-ice were photographed by the Opportunity rover in 2004. The caps at both poles consist primarily of water ice. Frozen carbon dioxide accumulates as a comparatively thin layer about one meter thick on the north cap in the northern winter only, while the south cap has a permanent dry ice cover about 8 m thick.

Barchan Dunes

Early speculation about life on Mars:  The Mars' polar ice caps were observed as early as the mid-17th century, and they were first proven to grow and shrink alternately, in the summer and winter of each hemisphere, by William Herschel in the latter part of the 18th century. By the mid-19th century, astronomers knew that Mars had certain other similarities to Earth, for example that the length of a day on Mars was almost the same as a day on Earth. They also knew that its axial tilt was similar to Earth's, which meant it experienced seasons just as Earth does — but of nearly double the length owing to its much longer year. These observations led to the increase in speculation that the darker albedo features were water, and brighter ones were land. Spectroscopic analysis of Mars' atmosphere began in earnest in 1894, when U.S. astronomer William Wallace Campbell showed that neither water nor oxygen were present in the Martian atmosphere. By 1909 better telescopes and the best perihelic opposition of Mars since 1877 conclusively put an end to the canal theory, it was therefore natural to suppose that Mars may be inhabited by some form of life. 

The Vastitas Borealis: (Latin, 'northern waste' ) is the largest lowland region of Mars. It is in the northerly latitudes of the planet and encircles the northern polar region. Vastitas Borealis is often simply referred to as the northern plains or northern lowlands of Mars. The plains lie 4–5 km below the mean radius of the planet. To the north lies Planum Boreum.  The region was named by Eugene Antoniadi, who noted the distinct albedo feature of the Northern plains in his book La Planète Mars (1930). The name was officially adopted by the International Astronomical Union in 1973.

Mars Terrain in Vastitas Borealis Region

Terrain in the Vastitas Borealis\

Two distinct basins are recognized within the Vastitas Borealis: the North Polar Basin and Utopia Planitia. Some scientists have speculated the plains were covered by an ocean at some point in Mars' history and putative shorelines have been suggested for its southern edges. Today these mildly sloping plains are marked by ridges, low hills, and sparse cratering. Vastitas Borealis is noticeably smoother than similar topographical areas in the south.


Surface of Mars, as seen by Phoenix (spacecraft). The ground is shaped into polygons which are common where the ground freezes and thaws in the North Pole Region.

Dunes and Layers

Lomonosov Crater: is a medium sized crater on Mars, with a diameter close to 150 km. It is located in the Martian northern plains north of the planet's equator. Since it is large and found close (65.9° north) to the boundary between the and the Mare Boreum Region and the , Mare Acidalium Region and is found on both maps. The topography is smooth and young in this area, hence Lomonosov is easy to spot on large maps of Mars.

Mars Rim of Losonomove crater

Rim of Lomonosov Crater

Korolev Crater is a crater in the  Mare Boreum  Region of Mars, located at 73° north latitude and 195.5° west longitude. It is 84.2 km in diameter and was named after Sergey Pavlovich Korolev (1906-1966), the head Soviet rocket engineer and designer.

Mars Edge of Ice Mound in Korolev Crater in Springtime

Edge of ice mound in the center of Korolev Crater

Stokes Crater: is an impact crater on Mars. It is located on the Martian Northern plains. It is distinctive for its dark-toned sand dunes, which have been formed by the planet's strong winds. It was named after George Gabriel Stokes.  Research released in July 2010 showed that it is one of at least nine craters in the northern lowlands that contains hydrated minerals. They are clay minerals, also called phyllosilicates.

Mars Possible Phyllosilicate-Rich Terrain in Stokes Crater

Possible Phyllosilicate-rich terrain in Stokes Crater

The Chasma Boreale: is a large canyon in Mars's north polar ice cap in the Mare Boreum Region of Mars at 83° north latitude and 47.1° west longitude. It is about 560 km (350 mi) long and was named after a classical albedo feature name.  The canyon's sides reveal layered features within the ice cap that result from seasonal melting and deposition of ice, together with dust deposits from Martian dust storms.

Mars Terrain in Central Chasma Boreale

Terrain in the central part of the Chasma Boreale

Information about the past climate of Mars may eventually be revealed in these layers, just as tree ring patterns and ice core data do on Earth. Both polar caps also display grooved features, probably caused by wind flow patterns. The grooves are also influenced by the amount of dust. The more dust, the darker the surface. The darker the surface, the more melting as dark surfaces absorb more energy.

Mars Chasma_Boreale,_Mars

Computer-generated view based on images of Chasma Boreale captured by the THEMIS instrument on Mars Odyssey.

The Phoenix Lander:  was a robotic spacecraft on a space exploration mission on Mars under the Mars Scout Program. The Phoenix lander descended on Mars on May 25, 2008. Mission scientists used instruments aboard the lander to search for environments suitable for microbial life on Mars, and to research the history of water there.  The Phoenix lander landed on Vastitas Borealis within the Mare Boreum Region at 68.218830° N and 234.250778° E on May 25, 2008. The probe collected and analyzed soil samples in an effort to detect water and determine how hospitable the planet might once have been for life to grow. It remained active there until winter conditions became too harsh around five months later.


Location of Phoenix Lander

Water on Mars exists almost exists exclusively as water ice, located in the Martian polar ice caps and under the shallow Martian surface even at more temperate latitudes.  A small amount of water vapor is present in the atmosphere. There are no bodies of liquid water on the Martian surface because its atmospheric pressure at the surface averages 600 pascals (0.087 psi) —about 0.6% of Earth's mean sea level pressure— and because the temperature is far too low, (210 K (−63 °C)) leads to immediate freezing. Despite this, about 3.8 billion years ago, there was a denser atmosphere, higher temperature, and vast amounts of liquid water flowed on the surface, including large oceans. It has been estimated that the primordial oceans on Mars would have covered between 36%  and 75% of the planet.

Mars Pheonix lander

Artist Concept of Phoenix Lander

Phoenix was NASA's sixth successful landing out of seven attempts and was the first successful landing in a Martian polar region. The lander completed its mission in August 2008, and made a last brief communication with Earth on November 2 as available solar power dropped with the Martian winter. The mission was declared concluded on November 10, 2008, after engineers were unable to re-contact the craft.

The mission had two goals. One was to study the geologic history of water, the key to unlocking the story of past climate change. The second was evaluate past or potential planetary habitability in the ice-soil boundary. Phoenix's instruments were suitable for uncovering information on the geological and possibly biological history of the Martian Arctic. Phoenix was the first mission to return data from either of the poles, and contributed to NASA's main strategy for Mars exploration, "Follow the water."  Phoenix landed in the Green Valley of Vastitas Borealis on May 25, 2008, in the late Martian northern hemisphere spring , where the Sun shone on its solar panels the whole Martian day. By the Martian northern Summer solstice (June 25, 2008), the Sun appeared at its maximum elevation of 47.0 degrees. Phoenix experienced its first sunset at the start of September 2008.  The polygonal cracking in this area had previously been observed from orbit, and is similar to patterns seen in permafrost areas in polar and high altitude regions of Earth. A likely formation mechanism is that permafrost ice contracts when the temperature decreases, creating a polygonal pattern of cracks, which are then filled by loose soil falling in from above. When the temperature increases and the ice expands back to its former volume, it thus cannot assume its former shape, but is forced to buckle upwards.  The Lander's Robotic Arm touched soil on the red planet for the first time on May 31, 2008 (sol 6). It scooped dirt and started sampling the Martian soil for ice after days of testing. Phoenix's Robotic Arm Camera took an image underneath the lander on sol 5 that shows patches of a smooth bright surface uncovered when thruster exhaust blew off overlying loose soil. It was later shown to be ice.  On June 19, 2008 (sol 24), NASA announced that dice-sized clumps of bright material in the "Dodo-Goldilocks" trench dug by the robotic arm had vaporized over the course of four days, strongly implying that they were composed of water ice which sublimated following exposure.

Mars Evaporating_ice_on_Mars_Phoenix_lander_image

Color versions of the photos showing ice sublimation, with the lower left corner of the trench enlarged in the insets in the upper right of the images.

On June 24, 2008 (sol 29), NASA's scientists launched a major series of tests. The robotic arm scooped up more soil and delivered it to 3 different on-board analyzers: an oven that baked it and tested the emitted gases, a microscopic imager, and a wet chemistry lab.  The lander's Robotic Arm scoop was positioned over the Wet Chemistry Lab delivery funnel on Sol 29 (the 29th Martian day after landing, i.e. June 24, 2008). The soil was transferred to the instrument on sol 30 (June 25, 2008), and Phoenix performed the first wet chemistry tests.  Preliminary wet chemistry lab results showed the surface soil is moderately alkaline, between pH 8 and 9. Magnesium, sodium, potassium and chloride ions were found; the overall level of salinity was modest. Chloride levels were low, and thus the bulk of the anions present were not initially identified. The pH and salinity level were viewed as benign from the standpoint of biology. TEGA analysis of its first soil sample indicated the presence of bound water and CO2 that were released during the final (highest-temperature, 1,000°C) heating cycle

Weather:  Snow was observed to fall from cirrus clouds. The clouds formed at a level in the atmosphere that was around −65 degrees C, so the clouds would have to be composed of water-ice, rather than carbon dioxide-ice (dry ice) because, at the low pressure of the Martian atmosphere, the temperature for forming carbon dioxide ice is much lower—less than −120 degrees C. As a result of the mission, it is now believed that water ice (snow) would have accumulated later in the year at this location. This represents a milestone in understanding Martian weather. Wind speeds ranged from 11 to 58 km per hour. The usual average speed was 36 km per hour. These speeds seem high, but the atmosphere of Mars is very thin—less than 1% of the Earth's—and so did not exert much force on the spacecraft. The highest temperature measured during the mission was −19.6°C, while the coldest was −97.7°C.

Polar regions:  Mars' north and south poles once attracted great interest as settlement sites because seasonally-varying polar ice caps have long been observed by telescope from Earth. Mars Odyssey found the largest concentration of water near the north pole, but also showed that water likely exists in lower latitudes as well, making the poles less compelling as a settlement locale. Like Earth, Mars sees a midnight sun at the poles during local summer and polar night during local winter.

It has been suggested that Mars once had an environment relatively similar to that of Earth during an earlier stage in its development. While water appears to have once existed on the Martian surface, it now only appears to exist at the poles and just below the planetary surface as permafrost. The lack of both a magnetic field and geologic activity on Mars may be a result of its relatively small size, which allowed the interior to cool  more quickly than Earth's, though the details of such a process are still not well understood. The soil and atmosphere of Mars contain many of the main elements needed for life.  Large amounts of water ice exist below the Martian surface, as well as on the surface at the poles, where it is mixed with dry ice, frozen CO2. Significant amounts of water are stored in the south pole of Mars, which, if melted, would correspond to a planet  wide ocean 11 meters deep. Frozen carbon dioxide (CO2) at the poles sublimates into the atmosphere during the Martian summers, and small amounts of water residue are left behind, which fast winds sweep off the poles at speeds approaching 250 mph (400 km/h). This seasonal occurrence transports large amounts of dust and water vapor into the atmosphere, giving potential for Earth-like cirrus clouds.   Most of the oxygen in the Martian atmosphere is present as carbon dioxide (CO2), the main atmospheric component. Molecular oxygen (O2) only exists in trace amounts. Large amounts of elemental oxygen can be also found in metal oxides on the Martian surface, and in the soil, in the form of per-nitrates. An analysis of soil samples taken by the Phoenix lander indicated the presence of perchlorate, which has been used to liberate oxygen in chemical oxygen generators.  Electrolysis could be employed to separate water on the planet into oxygen and hydrogen if sufficient liquid water and electricity were available.


Saturday, July 20, 2013

Small Pale Red Planet Issue 1 Phase 6


Colonization of the Planet Mars



Mars Spacecraft

Philosophy and Method:

The reason this story was written is to promote the enterprise of space exploration.  Why else would you study a place and not want to go there and plan for the future there.  We go there to colonize and look for natural resources.  The Earth will not last forever so if our species is to survive we must learn explore space and look for new places to live.  The first thing that must be considered in space exploration is that when we go to colonize a planet we should also be aware of the life on that planet.  Colonization could not be considered successful without understanding the life on that planet.  Mars has life on it but it has not been discovered probably due to the fact that it is underground or in caves.  There could be surface life too that we have not recognized as such.  Just because we humans on Earth can only live under certain conditions does not mean that different life forms living under different conditions on another planet could not live there. 

Interplanetary spaceship

Interplanetary Spaceship

Interplanetary Spaceflight:  Mars requires less energy per unit mass (delta V) to reach from Earth than any planet except Venus. Using a Hohmann transfer orbit, a trip to Mars requires approximately nine months in space. Modified transfer trajectories that cut the travel time down to seven or six months in space are possible with incrementally higher amounts of energy and fuel compared to a Hohmann transfer orbit, and are in standard use for robotic Mars missions. Shortening the travel time below about six months requires higher delta-v and an exponentially increasing amount of fuel, and is not feasible with chemical rockets, but would be perfectly feasible with advanced spacecraft propulsion technologies, some of which have already been tested, such as VASIMR, and nuclear rockets. In the former case, a trip time of forty days could be attainable, and in the latter, a trip time down to about two weeks. Another possibility is constant-acceleration technologies such as space-proven solar sails and ion drives that permit passage times at close approaches on the order of several weeks.  During the journey, the astronauts are subject to radiation, which requires a means to protect them. Cosmic radiation and solar wind cause DNA damage, which increases the risk of cancer significantly, so a force field technology must be developed to protect the astronauts from this radiation.


Landing on Mars

Landing Spacecraft on Mars

Landing on Mars:  Mars has a gravity 0.38 times that of the Earth and the density of its atmosphere is 1% of that on Earth. The relatively weaker gravity and the presence of aerodynamic effects makes it difficult to land heavy, crewed spacecraft with thrusters only, as was done with the Apollo moon landings, yet the atmosphere is too thin for aerodynamic effects to be of much help in braking and landing a large vehicle. Landing piloted missions on Mars will require braking and landing systems different from anything used to land crewed spacecraft on the Moon or robotic missions on Mars.  Nevertheless, there is not much on the table at this time about what kind of spacecraft would be needed to get a crew and payload on the surface of Mars safely.


Mars radiation comparison

Radiation Comparison between the ISS and Mars

Radiation:  Mars has no global magnetic field comparable to Earth's geomagnetic field. Combined with a thin atmosphere, this permits a significant amount of ionizing radiation to reach the Martian surface. The Mars Odyssey spacecraft carried an instrument, the Mars Radiation Environment Experiment (MARIE), to measure the dangers to humans. MARIE found that radiation levels in orbit above Mars are 2.5 times higher than at the International Space Station. Average doses were about 22 millirads per day (220 micrograys per day or 0.08 gray per year.) A three-year exposure to such levels would be close to the safety limits currently adopted by NASA. Levels at the Martian surface would be somewhat lower and might vary significantly at different locations depending on altitude and local magnetic fields. Building living quarter’s underground  would significantly lower the colonists' exposure to radiation.

Communications:  Communications with Earth are relatively straightforward during the half-sol when the Earth is above the Martian horizon. NASA and ESA included communications relay equipment in several of the Mars orbiters, so Mars already has communications satellites. While these will eventually wear out, additional orbiters with communication relay capability are likely to be launched before any colonization expeditions are mounted.  The one-way communication delay due to the speed of light ranges from about 3 minutes at closest approach to 22 minutes at the largest possible superior conjunction. Real-time communication, such as telephone conversations or Internet Relay Chat, between Earth and Mars would be highly impractical due to the long time lags involved.


Mars Robotic Precursors

Robotic precursors:  The path to a human colony could be prepared by robotic systems such as the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity. These systems could help locate resources, such as ground water or ice that would help a colony grow and thrive. The lifetimes of these systems would be measured in years and even decades, and as recent developments in commercial spaceflight have shown, it may be that these systems will involve private as well as government ownership. These robotic systems also have a reduced cost compared with early-crewed operations, and have less political risk.

Mars early explorers

Early Explorers on Mars

Early human missions:  Early real-life human missions to Mars however, such as those being tentatively planned by NASA, FKA and ESA would not be direct precursors to colonization. They are intended solely as exploration missions, as the Apollo missions to the Moon were not planned to be sites of a permanent base.  Colonization requires the establishment of permanent bases that have potential for self-expansion. A famous proposal for building such bases is the Mars Direct and the Mars Semi-Direct plan, advocated by Robert Zubrin.  Other proposals that envision the creation of a settlement, yet no return flight for the humans embarking on the journey have come from Jim McLane and Bas Lansdorp (the man behind Mars One).

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Small Pale Red Planet Issue 1 Phase 5


The Martian Dichotomy

The most conspicuous feature of Martian surface geology is a sharp contrast, known as the Martian dichotomy, between the rugged southern highlands and the relatively smooth northern basins. The two hemispheres differ in elevation by 1 to 3 km. The average thickness of the Martian crust is 45 km, with 32 km in the northern lowlands region, and 58 km in the southern highlands (that is to say, that much of the northern lowlands are equivalent to being below sea level on Earth) .  The boundary between the two regions is quite complex in places. One distinctive type of topography is called fretted terrain.  It contains mesas, knobs, and flat-floored valleys having walls about a mile high. Around many of the mesas and knobs are lobate debris aprons that have been shown to be rock-covered glaciers. 



Topographical Map of Mars:  The low elevations are in blue and green the high elevations are the other colors in this map.  If one followed the blue border on this map that would be equivalent to following the Martian Dichotomy border.

The northern lowlands comprise about one-third of the surface of Mars and are relatively flat, with occasional impact craters. The other two-thirds of the Martian surface are the highlands of the southern hemisphere. The difference in elevation between the hemispheres is dramatic. Because of the density of impact craters, scientists believe the southern hemisphere to be far older than the northern plains.  The heavily cratered southern highlands date back to the period of the Late heavy bombardment. Three major hypotheses have been proposed for the origin of the crustal dichotomy: endogenic (by mantle processes), single impact, or multiple impacts. Both impact-related hypotheses involve processes that could have occurred before the end of the primordial bombardment, implying that the crustal dichotomy has its origins early in the history of Mars and that is doubtful. It is probable that all the areas colored blue on the  map above was once covered by an ocean.  That the Hellas Basin in deep purple was an inland sea with great depth was caused by a large impacter.    Therefore, whatever happened in those early years would have been covered by the bottom of the Northern ocean floor and disappeared with little trace covered by the movement of the ocean floor.  However, there are also events that have occurred since then.

Video on the Geological History of Mars:






Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Small Pale Red Planet Issue 1 Phase 4



Ancient River on Mars leading to the Northern Ocean

On earth, we have definitive information by using stratigraphic principles; we can usually delineate rock units only in terms of their relative age to each other.  We know younger rocks will be on the surface while the older ones will be under the surface as in strata of rock formations.  Other methods, such as radiometric dating, are needed to determine absolute ages in geologic time on Earth.  Assigning absolute ages to rock units on Mars is much more problematic.  Numerous attempts have been made over the years to determine an absolute Martian chronology (timeline) by comparing estimated impact cratering rates for Mars to those on the Moon. If we know with precision the rate of impact crater formation on Mars by crater size per unit area over geologic time then crater densities also provide a way to determine absolute ages.  Unfortunately, practical difficulties in crater counting and uncertainties in estimating the flux still create huge uncertainties in the ages derived from these methods. Martian meteorites have provided datable samples that are consistent with ages calculated thus far, but the locations on Mars from where these meteorites came (provenance) are unknown, limiting their value as chronostratigraphic tools. Absolute ages determined by crater density should therefore be taken with some skepticism.


Crater density timescale:

Pre-Noachian: Represents the interval from the accretion and differentiation of the planet about 4.5 (Gya.)billion years ago to the formation of the Hellas impact basin, between 4.1 to 3.8 Gya. Most of the geologic record of this interval has been erased by subsequent erosion and high impact rates. The crustal dichotomy is thought to have formed during this time, along with the Argyre and Isidis basins.

Noachian Period: Formation of the oldest extant surfaces of Mars between 4.1 and about 3.7 billion years ago (Gya): Noachian-aged surfaces are scarred by many large impact craters. The Tharsis bulge is thought to have formed during the Noachian, along with extensive erosion by liquid water producing river valley networks. Large lakes or oceans may have been present.

Hesperian Period: 3.7 to approximately 3.0 Gya. , marked by the formation of extensive lava plains. The formation of Olympus Mons probably began during this period. Catastrophic releases of water carved extensive outflow channels around Chryse Planitia and elsewhere. Ephemeral lakes or seas formed in the northern lowlands.

Amazonian Period: 3.0 Gya to present. The Amazonian regions have few meteorite impact craters but are otherwise quite varied. Lava flows, glacial/periglacial activity, and minor releases of liquid water continued during this period.

Mars #1 timeline

Mars Crater density time scale

Mineral alteration timescale:

In 2006, researchers using data from the OMEGA Visible and Infrared Mineralogical Mapping Spectrometer on board the Mars Express orbiter proposed an alternative Martian timescale based on the predominant type of mineral alteration that occurred on Mars due to different styles of chemical weathering in the planets past. They proposed dividing the history of the Mars into three eras: the Phyllocian, Theiikian and Siderikan.

Phyllocian:  lasted from the formation of the planet until around the Early Noachian (about 4.0 Gya). OMEGA identified outcropping of phyllosilicates (clays) at numerous locations on Mars, all in rocks that were exclusively Pre-Noachian or Noachian in age (most notably in rock exposures in Nili Fossae and Mawrth Vallis). Phyllosillicates (clays) require a water-rich, alkaline environment to form. The Phyllocian era correlates with the age of valley network formation on Mars, suggesting an early climate that was conducive to the presence of abundant surface water. It is thought that deposits from this era are the best candidates in which to search for evidence of past life on the planet.

Theiikian:  lasted until about 3.5 Gya. It was an era of extensive volcanism, which released large amounts of sulfur dioxide (SO2) into the atmosphere. The SO2 combined with water to create a sulphuric acid-rich environment that allowed the formation of hydrated sulphates (notably kieserite and gypsum).

Siderikan: lasted from 3.5 Gya until the present. With the decline of volcanism and available water, the most notable surface weathering process has been the slow oxidation of the iron-rich rocks by atmospheric peroxides producing the red iron oxides that give the planet its familiar color.

Mars timescale #2

Mars Mineral Alteration Timescale

We see huge gaps in these geological timescales.  Much of what we are looking for has been covered up or hard to find that is why we need geologists down on the planet doing the work not only rovers and satellites which are limited by the way they collect data.  You will note that both timelines are almost the same,  one with three periods and the other with four.  This shows you how little we really know about the geological history of Mars.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Small Pale Red Planet Issue 1 Phase 3


The Moons of Mars:

Mars has two relatively small natural moons, Phobos and Deimos, which orbit close to the planet. Asteroid capture is a long-favored theory, but their origin remains uncertain.  Most probably, they were two asteroids captured during the Late Heavy Bombardment of the Solar System 3 or 4 billion years ago.



Enhanced-color HiRISE image of Phobos, showing a series of mostly parallel grooves and crater chains, with its crater Stickney at right.

From the surface of Mars, the motions of Phobos and Deimos appear very different from that of our own moon. Phobos rises in the west, sets in the east, and rises again in just 11 hours.

Mars Deimos-MRO

Enhanced-color HiRISE image of Deimos (not to scale), showing its smooth blanket of regolith.

Deimos, being only just outside synchronous orbit – where the orbital period would match the planet's period of rotation – rises as expected in the east but very slowly. Despite the 30 hour, orbit of Deimos, 2.7 days elapse between its rise and set for an equatorial observer, as it slowly falls behind the rotation of Mars.  No telling what tidal effects these two moons had on the oceans of Mars when they existed. 

Video Clip on Martian Moons 

Because the orbit of Phobos is below synchronous altitude, the tidal forces from the planet Mars are gradually lowering its orbit. In about 50 million years, it could either crash into Mars's surface or break up into a ring structure around the planet.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Small Pale Red Planet Issue 1 Phase 2


The Martian Environment:

Some general understanding of the Planet is necessary before we begin the survey.   The first is atmosphere and weather.  The atmosphere of Mars consists of about 95% carbon dioxide, 3% nitrogen, 1.6% argon and contains traces of oxygen and water.   The atmosphere is quite dusty, containing particulates about 1.5 µm in diameter, which give the Martian sky a tawny color when seen from the surface.  Methane has been detected in the Martian atmosphere with a mole fraction of about 30 ppb; it occurs in extended plumes, and the profiles imply that the methane is released from discrete regions. In northern midsummer, the principal plume contained 19,000 metric tons of methane, with estimated source strength of 0.6 kilogram per second.   It stays anywhere from 4-.05 years in the atmosphere before being destroyed by solar radiation.  Mars has no ozone layer in its atmosphere.  This rapid turnover would indicate an active source of the gas on the planet. Volcanic activity, cometary impacts, and the presence of methanogenic microbial life forms are among possible sources. Methane could also be produced by a non-biological process called serpentinization involving water, carbon dioxide, and the mineral olivine, which is known to be common on Mars.  Olivine hides out in what geochemists call ultramafic rock—rock high in magnesium- and iron-containing olivine and pyroxenes, which are silicate minerals. During serpentinization, water attacks olivine and alters it to another mineral, called serpentine. At the same time, the hydrogen molecules are cleaved from the water. In the presence of certain catalysts, those hydrogen molecules combine with the carbon to form carbon dioxide and to form methane (CH4). For the reaction to occur, the water must not be frozen, so serpentinization could not take place on the surface of Mars which makes sense.  Since water on the surface due to the atmospheric pressure would evaporate immediately upon exposure.  This was how the water/ice was discovered in the Phoenix Mission.


Mars Evaporating_ice_on_Mars_Phoenix_lander_image

Ice found at Phoenix Mission dig

The atmosphere that once enshrouded the planet is gone because Mars has almost no magnetosphere, which was in turn  produced by a geological dynamo that probably just barely works at present.  Most of the atmosphere is heaviest at high magnetic locations on the planet’s surface.


Mars Plate Tectonics and Surface Magnetism

Right now NASA is in the process of launching the Maven Mission that will study the planet’s atmosphere and weather.  However, robots cannot do it all.  What stops a manned mission is money.  It takes an investment to develop systems that will service and deliver the explorers to the planet that is more expensive in some minds than a robotic mission is. Of all the planets in the Solar System, the seasons of Mars are the most Earth-like, due to the similar tilts of the two planets' rotational axes. The lengths of the Martian seasons are about twice those of Earth's, as Mars's greater distance from the Sun leads to the Martian year being about two Earth years long. Martian surface temperatures vary from lows of about −143 °C (−225 °F) (at the winter polar caps) to highs of up to 35 °C (95 °F) (in equatorial summer). The wide range in temperatures is due to the thin atmosphere, which cannot store much solar heat, the low atmospheric pressure, and the low thermal inertia of Martian soil.  Mars also has the largest dust storms in the Solar System. These can vary from a storm over a small area, to gigantic storms that cover the entire planet.


Mars global dust storm

A Mars Global Dust Storm

They tend to occur when Mars is closest to the Sun.  Dust storms have been shown to increase the global temperature.  The tectonic activity of the planet is very small.  The planet has cooled down inside as well as not being able to maintain an atmosphere that can retain a warmer temperature.  This I believe is due two things.  The first is the planet’s distance from the sun and the second is the small size of the planet.  This is what I believe has had a great affect on the planet’s tectonic activity.  The core may still be hot but not strong enough to force a magma eruption through the mantle and then the crust.  The tectonic plates of the Mars, do not act like the ones we have on Earth.   It has been a very long time since there has been any volcanic activity on the planet.   When the planet was active, there was a catastrophic geological event that occurred as evidenced by the closeness of the Tharsis Bulge to the Valles Marineris.  For the latter part of the Planet’s volcanic history the planet used the same passages for volcano eruptions in the Tharsis Bulge and Mons Olympus, which is why their peaks are at the highest altitudes known in the solar system.  This would have happened when movement of the tectonic plates ceased.  However, I think there is evidence that these tectonic plates are still moving but very slowly.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Small Pale Red Planet 1st Issue Phase 1



Mars is the only planet we know the most about but have not set foot on yet.  We have sent satellites, orbiters, landers, and rovers, but there are no human footprints on the planet Mars.  The last time humans have set foot another planet was in 1972 with Apollo 17 on the Moon.  Since then we have accumulated such a wealth of knowledge about the Red Planet that few outside the scientific community really know what we possess.  That is why I think we need a written survey  about the Planet Mars.  To look at it through a proper perspective and investigate the possibilities for the future exploration of the planet.  I see a definite need for a work such as this one.


Earth and Mars relative size

Relative size to scale of Earth to Mars.  Mars is a little under 1/3 the size of Earth.

We have all sorts of video for the Planet Mars and there are many scientific details to consider.  The number of photos cataloged is very large and I doubt if anyone has paused to count them.  So I think there is reason for an attempt at a written/video/image survey of the planet.  It will be done as listed below:


Mars quadangles 2

Mars Quadrangle Map

This is the map that I will follow for this Project but I will refer to them as regions instead.  I will start from the top at the North pole and gradually work my way south to the South Pole. Working my way from left to right. That way we will have a complete survey of the entire planet.  To the left is the East and to the right is the West.

My Association With Mars


Mars phoenix_lander

The Phoenix Lander on Mars

My association with Mars comes from the the Phoenix Lander Mission which landed close to the Martian North Pole.  I followed it from launch until it stopped working.  It was active on Mars for about 5 months- longer than NASA had intended.  Most of the exploration equipment developed by NASA has been built like that-it lasts longer than the instrument’s expected lifetime.   With Phoenix it was the first time NASA would openly admit there was water on Mars in the form of ice right under the soil of the planet.  Now NASA openly admits that there was probably life on Mars at one time too.  A thing me and many others thought they would never admit to.   My specialty has been as a Planetary Science writer and that is what I write about-planets and exoplanets.  I have covered the Phoenix Mission, and currently write about the Kepler, New Horizons, and Juno Missions.  My reason for writing about these missions is I am interested in  places that could be reached sooner than any of the places that is being dreamed about outside the solar system.  Kepler is an exoplanet mission so that is the only one that is outside our solar system.   This form of planet hunting is the proper thing to do at this time.  Once we learn to travel through our solar system there will be places where we will seek to colonize and look for ET.  We will know where to look thanks to a Mission like Kepler.  From what we have learned from Kepler we now know that, Mars exists on the outer edge of the habitable zone, a region of the Solar System where life can exist. Mars is on the border of a region known as the extended habitable zone where concentrated greenhouse gases could support the liquid water on the surface at sufficient atmospheric pressure. Therefore Mars has the potential to support a hydrosphere and biosphere.