Thursday, July 17, 2008

Can We Drill On Mars Too?

Mars is certainly in the news this week. At there is an article on Mars that bears reading:

How Mars and Alaska Are Alike
Little did Bucknell University geology professors Craig Kochel and Jeffrey Trop know, as they were working in Alaska, that they would soon predict one of the most important planetary observations ever made.

Okay, so what are the similarities? Lack of attractive women? No good Italian restaurants for thousands of square miles? The weather really, really sucks? You can crap almost anywhere and no one cares?

The pair was in Alaska for an eight-day trip in July 2006, studying geological features and the processes that create them. As they studied photographs taken of the surrounding area, some features caught Kochel's eye. He thought they were strangely familiar, and then realized they reminded him of images he'd seen when working on the Viking missions to Mars in the 1970s.

Kochel and Trop trekked to where the shots were taken overlooking a glacier. Spotting triangle-shaped landforms called "fans" sealed the deal: They looked strikingly similar to photographs taken of features on Mars.

Although geologists can usually tell what shapes the landscape around us, it was a mystery what formed the Mars-like features found in Alaska.

How about phrasing it as Earth-type features found on Mars? These guys looked at geological events in Alaska and sought to draw inferences on similar events on Mars. The end result?

Kochel and Trop explained that with a bit of luck and good timing, it would be possible to snap photographs of martian avalanches. Amazingly, soon afterwards the orbiter sent back images of an ice flow avalanche in action on Mars. Pieces of ice, dust and possibly rocks crashed down from high, steep areas, sending clouds of fine material billowing upwards. The cloud itself was about 590 feet (180 meters) across. The exact cause of the avalanche isn't known with certainty, but it could be because the sun warmed layers of ice.

This was the first time an avalanche had been observed on another world, and was the perfect confirmation of Kochel and Trop's ideas.

So let's see, the bottom line is: gravity works on Mars as well as in Alaska? I am relieved that up is still up and down is still down on another planet of our solar system.

Now I wanna see if there is any oil underneath all that red sand.

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