Historical wind and modern wind
Published 5/3/2022 in Lori Fenton's Blog Author lfenton
May 3, 2022 I don't typically have much time for these posts anymore. The pandemic seems to have changed everything. But sometimes I need to remind myself why I do this for a living. Going to look through Mars' gorgeous scenery is one way I can ground myself (pun not intended). My hope is that by writing these blog posts, I can perhaps share some of that with others. So let's have another awesome look at Mars, hmm?   Go ahead, click on it so you can see it at full resolution. There's a fabric of hills going from the lower left to the upper right. If you look carefully you'll see that some of them are gray,... read more ❯

Once covered, now revealed
Published 3/29/2021 in Lori Fenton's Blog Author lfenton
March 29, 2021 Mars is such a fun place. We're finding out that it's got oodles of geologic history. It's got layers deposited by wind and water and lava, altered in place (sometimes many times), then eroded again by wind and water and lava. It's never boring. My favorite, of course, is the wind. I really like modern dunes that are now crawling across the surface and the wind blows their sand along. But I also like old ones that preserve information about the wind patterns from a long time ago. This is ESP_068039_1780, a really spectacular HiRISE image that shows a lot of wind erosion has happened (as always, click to see a bigger version): This is in the Medusa Fossae Formation, perhaps the most deeply wind-scoured region on the planet. Recent work suggests that it may be the largest source... read more ❯

Both wind-carved *and* ancient
Published 2/1/2021 in Lori Fenton's Blog Author lfenton
1 February, 2021 Are we tired of the pandemic yet? My kids haven't gone to an actual school since last March. Fortunately we're all healthy. I'm able to do most of my work, but it's not easy. So let's go look at Mars. (I do that when I feel stressed and it usually makes me feel better.) Here's a neat HiRISE image that was recently released (click on any of these images for a closer view): It looks kinda crazy, doesn't it? It's a mostly smooth surface with some subtle linear grooves (or bumps, if you're a glass-half-full person, which I am not). But it's got a decent number of craters on it, so we're probably not looking at a polar... read more ❯

Did Proxima Centauri just call to say hello? Not really!
Published 12/19/2020 in Franck Marchis Blog Author Franck Marchis
Greetings, Citizens of Earth! You’ve probably heard about the story, published in The Guardian, a respectable newspaper in the UK, about the potential discovery of an alien signal from the Proxima Centauri system, the star closest to us.   This article, and a companion piece in Scientific American, noted that in April and May 2019, the Parkes telescope in Australia was listening to Proxima b, a red dwarf. This star is known to be active, and this listening was part of a stellar-flare survey. Shane Smith, a student at Breakthrough Listen, a program privately funded by Yuri Milner to search and find so-called technosignatures, or signals that indicate the existence of a civilization like ours, checked out the data. He found an exceedingly curious narrowband emission, needle-sharp at 982.002 megahertz. The team inspected the data, confirmed its veracity, and named it BLC1, for “Breakthrough Listen Candidate 1.” The name clearly identifies what it is. It’s a... read more ❯

The zebra dunes of the martian subarctic
Published 12/16/2020 in Lori Fenton's Blog Author lfenton
16 December, 2020 This year I haven't had time to write many blog posts. That's a shame, because they're what often reminds me of how amazing Mars is (and by extension, the Earth, and all the other worlds out there). The pandemic has left its mark on all of us. I'm fortunate enough to be funded (but that may end - I don't foresee spending on NASA to be plentiful in the coming hard years). The upside is that for now I can work. The downside is that I'm behind in all of my projects, and also trying to get my kids to do their schoolwork (such as it is this year). So let's look at something cool on Mars. Let's go see the zebra dunes. These zebra dunes: Dunes aren't typically covered in stripes like that. Not... read more ❯

How I Plan to Help Save Science Education with the Unistellar eVscope!
Published 10/2/2020 in Dan's Cosmic Diary Author Dan Peluso
Lightning strikes a dream Several weeks ago I had a dream during the intense lightning storms in and around San Francisco and the greater Bay Area, which then sparked some of the devastating wildfires that we are still recovering from and experiencing. In this dream, I was in my high school chemistry class. My group was asked to answer the problem on the board and when we went up and didn’t know the answer, everyone, including the teacher (and Nelson from the Simpsons), laughed at us. This inspired me to share the failure of the American education system with my students and how the current system values answers over process and problem solving while squashing their creativity and curiosity. Process, problem solving, knowing how to think rather than what, and curiosity and creativity are intrinsic and vital skills for science, education, and innovation in our modern time. Video: Neil deGrasse Tyson on how... read more ❯

Dune on a hill
Published 9/2/2020 in Lori Fenton's Blog Author lfenton
Sept. 2, 2020 Dunes don't usually form on hills. They're made of sand, which is moved by wind (and water and ice) and tends to linger where it gets stuck. You probably know this intimately if you've spent time at a sandy beach. It's true not only on the scale of the threads of a beach towel and in jeans pockets, but also on a larger scale. Dune fields are made of windblown sand that piles up in valleys, or whatever topographic low it's being blown past. The biggest sand sea on Mars, for example, is found at the bottom of the biggest basin on the planet (most well-known is Olympia Undae). The second-largest accumulation of dunes on Mars (outside the huge north polar sand seas) on Mars are found on the floor of the enormous and deep Valles Marineris (examples like these). So when I was looking for new backgrounds for... read more ❯

Those crazy southern polar dunes
Published 7/17/2020 in Lori Fenton's Blog Author lfenton
July 17, 2020 A couple months ago I wrote a blog post about defrosting dunes in Jeans crater, some wild southern polar dunes on Mars. Well it's been that time of year on Mars, so I'm going to show some more. These aren't in Jeans crater, but in another unnamed crater at about 70°S (that's pretty far south). First let's have a look at the crater, for some context: CTX images of the crater (Image credit: NASA/JPL/MSSS, made in JMARS) MOLA elevation + shaded relief of the crater (Image credit: NASA, made in JMARS) On the left above are images of the crater and the funky-looking dune field inside it. On the right is elevation, which might help you see where the craters are. Our crater is about 43 km (26.7 mi) across, and its floor sits at an elevation of about 500 m (0.31 mi) above the Mars datum (what would be sea... read more ❯

Planetary Defense with the eVscope Network - First results
Published 7/6/2020 in Franck Marchis Blog Author Franck Marchis
In March 2020,  Joé Asencio joined the SETI Institute to develop the potential of the Unistellar network for Planetary Defense.  Part of his work is to build the tools necessary to analyze astrometry and photometry of  Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) and connect with our network of citizen astronomers. This is a summary of the first results obtained with the eVscope. Let's first thank our backyard astronomers who contributed  to this program:  Sam Rihani, Kevin Cross, Jacques Bérard, Nicole Ruel, Masaaki Yamato, Gilles Cartry and the Unistellar team. Because of their contribution we have validated the use of the eVscope to contribute to this field of research. Here a summary... In less than a month of observation, we have already submitted more than 20 observations to the Minor Planet Center, or MPC,  (asteroids 52768, 1984QY1, 913, 652, 3, 12…) confirming the potential of the eVscope... read more ❯