Space

March 11, 2013

NASA mission helps craft 3-D image of buried Mars flood channels

nasa-mars-3d
NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has provided images allowing scientists for the first time to create a 3-D reconstruction of ancient water channels below the Martian surface.

The spacecraft took numerous images during the past few years that showed channels attributed to catastrophic flooding in the last 500 million years. Mars during this period had been considered cold and dry. These channels are essential to understanding the extent to which recent hydrologic activity prevailed during such arid conditions. They also help scientists determine whether the floods could have induced episodes of climate change.

The estimated size of the flooding appears to be comparable to the ancient mega flood that created the Channeled Scablands in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States in eastern Washington.

The findings are reported in the March 7 issue of Science Express by a team of scientists from NASA, the Smithsonian Institute, and the Southwest Research Institute in Houston.

“Our findings show the scale of erosion that created the channels previously was underestimated and the channel depth was at least twice that of previous approximations,” said Gareth Morgan, a geologist at the National Air and Space Museum’s Center for Earth and Planetary Studies in Washington and lead author on the paper. “This work demonstrates the importance of orbital sounding radar in understanding how water has shaped the surface of Mars.”

The channels lie in Elysium Planitia, an expanse of plains along the Martian equator and the youngest volcanic region on the planet. Extensive volcanism throughout the last several hundred million years covered most of the surface of Elysium Planitia, and this buried evidence of Mars’ older geologic history, including the source and most of the length of the 620-mile-long (1000-kilometer-long) Marte Vallis channel system. To probe the length, width and depth of these underground channels, the researchers used MRO’s Shallow Radar (SHARAD).

Marte Vallis’ morphology is similar to more ancient channel systems on Mars, especially those of the Chryse basin. Many scientists think the Chryse channels likely were formed by the catastrophic release of ground water, although others suggest lava can produce many of the same features. In comparison, little is known about Marte Vallis.

With the SHARAD radar, the team was able to map the buried channels in three dimensions with enough detail to see evidence suggesting two different phases of channel formation. One phase etched a series of smaller branching, or “anastomosing,” channels that are now on a raised “bench” next to the main channel. These smaller channels flowed around four streamlined islands. A second phase carved the deep, wide channels.

“In this region, the radar picked up multiple ‘reflectors,’ which are surfaces or boundaries that reflect radio waves, so it was possible to see multiple layers,” said Lynn Carter, the paper’s co-author from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “We have rarely seen that in SHARAD data outside of the polar ice regions of Mars.”

The mapping also provided sufficient information to establish the floods that carved the channels originated from a now-buried portion of the Cerberus Fossae fracture system. The water could have accumulated in an underground reservoir and been released by tectonic or volcanic activity.

“While the radar was probing thick layers of dry, solid rock, it provided us with unique information about the recent history of water in a key region of Mars,” said co-author Jeffrey Plaut of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

The Italian Space Agency provided the SHARAD instrument on MRO and Sapienza University of Rome leads its operations. JPL manages MRO for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Denver built the orbiter and supports its operations.

 




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 
nasa-cassini

NASA Cassini images may reveal birth of new Saturn moon

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has documented the formation of a small icy object within the rings of Saturn that may be a new moon, and may also provide clues to the formation of the planet’s known moons. Images taken w...
 
 

NASA completes LADEE mission with planned impact on Moon’s surface

Ground controllers at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., have confirmed that NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer spacecraft impacted the surface of the moon, as planned, between 9:30 and 10:22 p.m., PDT, April 17. LADEE lacked fuel to maintain a long-term lunar orbit or continue science operations and was intentionally sent...
 
 
Photograph courtesy of NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Kepler telescope discovers first Earth-size planet in ‘habitable zone’

Photograph courtesy of NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech Kepler-186f resides in the Kepler-186 system about 500 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus. The system is also home to four inner planets, seen lined up...
 

 

Lockheed Martin solar ultraviolet imager installed on GOES-R weather satellite

Lockheed Martin has delivered a new solar analysis payload that will help scientists measure and forecast space weather, which can damage satellites, electrical grids and communications systems on Earth. The Solar Ultraviolet Imager instrument was integrated with the first flight vehicle of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrationís next-generation Geostationary Operational Environm...
 
 
Lockheed Martin photograph

NASA’s Orion Spacecraft powers through first integrated system testing

Lockheed Martin photograph Engineers in the Operations and Checkout Building at NASAís Kennedy Space Center in Florida, perform avionics testing on the Orion spacecraft being prepared for its first trip to space later this yea...
 
 

NASA signs agreement with SpaceX for use of historic launch pad

NASA Kennedy Space Center’s historic Launch Complex 39A, the site from which numerous Apollo and space shuttle missions began, is beginning a new mission as a commercial launch site. NASA signed a property agreement with Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) of Hawthorne, Calif., on Monday for use and occupancy of the seaside complex along Florida’s...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>