It was so exciting to find this image! The image was intended to be part of a series of seasonal monitoring observations of a dune field. We’re watching to see how the winter carbon dioxide frost disappears as spring comes to the northern polar areas (which is pretty cool in itself! See PSP_007043_2650, for example.) PSP_007338_2640 happened to be the first image we took after powering back on after a safing event. So we were examining the image to make sure the camera was still working OK (it is – as you can see from this beautiful image & the many others we’ve taken since!). If it hadn’t been for that, we might not have noticed this for weeks! (In case you haven’t noticed, we have a LOT of images to look at! )
My first reaction was just, “What is that?” So I asked some of the scientists around HiROC, and they got excited, too. Everyone was talking about it all day, putting together ad-hoc color products (the full color processing takes a while to get through our processing pipelines) and looking at other images nearby for similar events. Because this was part of a series of images in the same spot, we had a “before” image as well (PSP_007140_2640). It’s a little hard to compare the two images because the bright carbon dioxide frost is changing as well, and we took the two images from different angles. But you can see in the second image that there are some spots up above on the cliff that are missing their bright frost covering. Perhaps that’s where the rock (or ice) fall started? The springtime sun is warming these icy layers, which could cause sublimation (solid ice changing to gas). Certainly there is a lot of dust being raised to form this big cloud, too, whether the dust was mixed in with the ice blocks, or just kicked up off the lower, dustier layers. As we continue monitoring this site and other polar areas, we’re sure to learn a lot more about the processes captured in this image.
Continuing on from yesterday’s quotes from HAL as post titles, I was giddy with anticipation about NASA‘s Mars announcement today, and had to wait till I got home before the immensely satisfying statement of liquid water on Mars in the past seven years. Well there’s the balloon-puncturing ‘may have flowed’, emphasis on the scientific absence of hubris and so on, but…
“These fresh deposits suggest that at some places and times on present-day Mars, liquid water is emerging from beneath the ground and briefly flowing down the slopes. This possibility raises questions about how the water would stay melted below ground, how widespread it might be, and whether there’s a below-ground wet habitat conducive to life. Future missions may provide the answers,” said Malin.
Who woulda thought NASA would suddenly come over all media-savvy and blip out not one but two press releases in a matter of days? First with the “Back to the Moon! (er … soon … ish)”, which has got everyone going “yeah!!! … uh … yeah!!!” and wondering what to do between now and 2024 when we all get to live in Shackleton Crater near the moon’s south pole due to clement and sunny conditions most of the time. But somehow picking an asteroid hole named after the Antarctic explorer who spent far too long not exploring and marooned on the embarrassing misnomer Elephant Island eating penguins doesn’t inspire moon-tourist confidence.
NASA, mourning the silence of long-faithful Mars Global Surveyor after ten year mission are now keeping all space geeks, which I am deliriously proud to be, salivating with mind-numbing anticipation over Briefing to Announce Significant Find on Mars which is happening sometime around 3am Thursday. Plenty of wild speculation mostly revolving around water, microbes, aliens. I think it sounds all too much like 2001: A Space Odyssey, and I know exactly what they’ve found.