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The Weathermen Of Mars

This scene from the dust covered plains of eastern Arabia Terra portrays a range of geological time. Three craters at the center of the image capture some of this range. Two have the classic bowl-shape of small, relatively recent craters while the one just to the north has seen much more history. Its rim has been scoured away by erosion and its floor has been filled in by material likely of a sedimentary nature. The channels that wind through the scene may be the oldest features present while the relatively dark streaks scattered about could have been produced in the past few years or even months as winds remove a layer of dust to reveal darker material below. Mars Odyssey Image
Los Alamos - Dec 17, 2002
Researchers at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, the University of Arizona Lunar Planetary Laboratory, Tucson, AZ, and Cornell University, Center for Radiophysics and Space Research, Ithaca, NY have discovered further evidence for the possible existence of a changing, and perhaps predictable, Martian climate.

In presentations at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) 2002 meeting last week in San Francisco, scientists will unveil thermal, epithermal, and fast neutron data gathered from February through November 2002 by the Neutron Spectrometer subsystem aboard NASA's Mars Odyssey spacecraft .

The mapping of the Odyssey data indicates deposits of hydrogen in large areas centered on Arabia Terra and 180 degrees east longitude near the equator. The thermal and fast flux data also indicates that these deposits are buried below a shallow layer of water-poor Martian soil.

According to Los Alamos' principal investigator on the project, Bill Feldman, this spatial distribution of hydrogen deposits cannot be explained by the general north-south latitude gradient of water vapor that is in the present Martian atmosphere, thereby requiring different climatic conditions in the relatively recent past.

Maps of thermal, epithermal, and fast neutrons for the northern Martian latitudes-northward of +45 degrees-were also studied to determine the time variation of carbon dioxide frost at latitudes during late winter mid summer.

The data collected between February and November 2002, were broken into sixteen, roughly two-week intervals of time. The edge of the carbon dioxide frost cap is seen to steadily recede during the period, revealing subsurface deposits of water-rich soil.

Previously, the Los Alamos' neutron spectrometer had mapped the Martian surface while it was summer in the south and winter in the north. That data revealed the extent to which the northern and southern polar caps are covered by a thick layer of carbon dioxide, or dry ice.

During winter, the carbon dioxide layers extend from the poles to within about 60 degrees of the equator because the dry ice frost settles out of the atmosphere when temperatures fall about 186 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. During the warmer summer the carbon dioxide layer evaporates completely in the north but remains as a thick cover of the residual polar cap in the south.

Thermal neutrons are low energy neutrons that are in thermal contact with the soil. Epithermal neutrons are intermediate-energy neutrons that are scattering down in energy after bouncing off of the soil material. Fast neutrons are the highest energy neutrons produced in the interaction between very high energy galactic cosmic rays and the soil.

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NASA's 2002 Odyssey Above Mars
Pasadena - Dec 12, 2002
The latest observations from NASA's Mars Odyssey spacecraft, highlighting water ice distribution and infrared images of the Red Planet's surface, are being released this week at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.



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