Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Dust :: Red Spot Specials

Dark spots (left) and 'fans' appear to scribble dusty hieroglyphics on top of the Martian south polar cap in two high-resolution Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Orbiter Camera images taken in southern spring. Each image is about 3-kilometers wide (sic) Credit: NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems
As you know by now, I am nothing if not assiduous in seeking out and testing new landscaping concepts for MoD’s environs. Whilst some on staff quibble, carp and cavil about the cost (hmmm…I wonder who I could mean), the results speak for themselves. Yes, sending a spacecraft to Mars has cost a bit, but again you can’t argue with the findings. And, I hasten to add, collaborating with the European Space Agency has really paid off. Not only has the co-pro given us access to some of the best brains in the world, but has also hugely ameliorated the capital investment. Best of all, but, is not having to cater to the Septic Tanks cultural sensitivities… something that takes up way too much time when dealing with NASA for example.

The ESA’s findings are pure landscaping gold.

First up: Crater Galle, which contains parallel gullies on its southern rim, a possible sign of liquid water running on Mars' surface. It also shows signs of wide erosion and the tracks of dust devils. This all shines a bright light on the geological and atmospheric conditions that have shaped the Martian landscape – but best of all, it has resulted in a giant smiley. I am thinking of recreating it at 100% scale here in Terra Incognita. Not, of course, because I like smileys – obviously I would prefer that they were all eradicated from the universe – rather it will be an eternal memento of the Summer of Love.

Just in case we ever make the mistake of trying to repeat it again again.

European Space Agency ‘Happy face' crater on Mars’ >>

Crate Galle is completely eclipsed by even more recent news from the red dot in the sky.* It now appears that the southern polar skies of Mars are decorated every spring by colossal dust geysers rising 100s of meters into the air.

These are powered by jets of carbon dioxide gas erupting through the frozen carbon-dioxide ice at speeds of around 100kph. The sand and dust falls back to the ice, creating fan and spider patterns that have had my scientists intrigued – no, bemused, mystified and stumped – for some time.

“The dark spots, typically 15 to 46 meters (50 to 150 feet) wide and spaced several hundred feet apart, appear every southern spring as the sun rises over the ice cap. They last for several months and then vanish -- only to reappear the next year, after winter's cold has deposited a fresh layer of ice on the cap. Most spots even seem to recur at the same locations.”

You can read the full report in Nature journal (you may have to subscribe…) >>
Or go to the source (NASA) >>
Or find out more about Themis imaging >>

Okay, so it IS via our Amerikan buddies’ Mars Odyssey probe but, hey, even they can luck out sometimes… and credit where credit is due, I always say. I know that it’s not a fashionable stance, and even come of my closest colleagues wrestle with the concept, but I’m a firm believer in acknowledging the efforts, however feeble, of others.

And, before I forget, you can now visit Mars yourself… at least virtually. Google recently released the highly pretty Google Mars >>


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