THE COSMIC DIARY NETWORK

Dust Devil Fieldwork #4: Team Paparazzi
Published 6/16/2019 in Lori Fenton's Blog Author lfenton
June 16, 2019 This is Part 4 of a series on my dust devil fieldwork in 2019 (see Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3). The last post was a short one. That's partly because I'm short on time, partly because my poor aging laptop's battery doesn't work (so I can only make these posts when it's plugged into an inverter while my truck is on, which means something else that needs charging isn't getting charged), and partly because I'm tethering my phone for internet access and don't want to totally eat up my data plan. Anyway. Last time I showed the weather station, so this time I'll show pictures of the camera setup. We've got four cameras pointing across our field site toward our weather tower, a couple of kilometers away. They're there to look for dust devils, so we can track their occurrence and location every day. Stephen... read more ❯

Dust Devil Fieldwork #3: Progress
Published 6/12/2019 in Lori Fenton's Blog Author lfenton
June 12, 2019 This is Part 3 of a series on my dust devil fieldwork in 2019 (see Part 1 | Part 2). We're here, we're really here. I have a team and wonderful instruments and everybody is awesome and working hard. We're camping on a playa in central Nevada, and I can't believe we've been here for a week now. It took us some time to set up all our gear and get everything working, but I think we've got a set routine now. The team: Me, the PI, ultimately responsible for All The Things. Steve Metzger, who set up & manages the weather instruments, organizes our camp, and is mentoring two undergrads who joined us for the campaign. He's got all the gear and outdoors experience you could want on a field research campaign, plus he specializes in dust devils. Stephen Scheidt, who set up & manages the cameras that are recording the dust... read more ❯

Dust Devil Fieldwork #2: Field Trials
Published 5/10/2019 in Lori Fenton's Blog Author lfenton
May 10, 2019 (This is Part 2 of a series on my summer 2019 dust devil fieldwork. See previous post Part 1.) Today my colleague Steve Metzger and I drove out to a playa in Nevada to test some of our field equipment. The "real" field campaign will happen in June. But first, we want to work out some of the kinks in our planned study. There's a lot of new equipment to test out, calibrate, and make work, and we don't want to waste precious time in June on silly mistakes that we could learn from now (fortunately our proposal panel reviewers seemed to agree with this, as they were happy to fund this part of the work). Yesterday I drove out to Nevada from California, carrying my ceilometer in the flat bed of a rental truck. Today we set it up, and tested out a nice Canon camera and some little... read more ❯

Baby dunes
Published 4/26/2019 in Lori Fenton's Blog Author lfenton
I saw an article today linked by the International Society for Aeolian Research's Facebook page, on the dangers of dust being lofted in Earth's youngest desert, the Aralkum Desert in Kazakhstan. It's where the Aral Sea used to be, decades ago. Here's the article from Atlas Obscura. It sounds like a difficult place to get to, and an even harder place to study. But, I thought, maybe there was something interesting to see from above. Maybe even new dunes, because rapidly exposed lake beds provide ready sources of sand for building dunes. A flat plain of sand will tend to form a field of uniformly-sized dunes, as they all grow at the same rate from a similarly sized sand supply. So I went to have a look with Google Earth Pro. And, yeah, I found a vast field of tiny little dunes. Here's a tiny bit of one of them: ... read more ❯

Dust Devil Fieldwork #1: Equipment
Published 4/23/2019 in Lori Fenton's Blog Author lfenton
April 22, 2019 Hey. So last fall I found out that some colleagues and I got our dust devil proposal funded (I'm the PI, which means I'm the one in charge.) My initial reaction included elation. Relief. Joy. 🤗🎉🎈🥂🎊 We'd submitted this proposal five times (FIVE!!) before we got it funded. And now we're really going to do it. We're going to get some amazing meteorology instruments, some awesome cameras, and go out to the US southwest to study some dust devils. As reality set in, my second reaction looked like this: 😨😰🙀 Because. Well. This is a big job. I want to do it well. After sinking so much time into getting the proposal to be perfect, I now have to follow through on all of my promises and learn some great things about dust devils. In another post I'll start going into the details of what we're looking for out in the... read more ❯

Calling Exogeophysicists to Solve the Mystery of Super-Earths
Published 3/5/2019 in Franck Marchis Blog Author Franck Marchis
There is a mystery in our galaxy, and astronomers around the world are working to solve it. The NASA Kepler mission revealed that planetary systems are common, and that on average, each star has two planets in orbit around it. This is great news for SETI researchers, since it means that there are a lot of worlds out there to explore. Many of them may have liquid water, meaning that there is the possibility that life could exist elsewhere in our galaxy. However, there is something unusual about some recently discovered planetary systems—half of those with a sun-like star have one or more so-called “super-Earths,” planets with a mass larger than that of our planet, but less than that of icy giant planets like Uranus or Neptune. What are they? We don’t really know. An artist concept of 55 Cancri e in contrast with our familiar Earth.... read more ❯

Old dunes and new dunes
Published 3/4/2019 in Lori Fenton's Blog Author lfenton
On Earth, really old windblown dunes don't usually survive long enough to become part of the geologic rock record. Dunes are made of unconsolidated sand, which is easily eroded by just about anything, so it takes special circumstances to keep dunes around. Most of the dunes preserved in Earth's geological layers are just the bottom fraction of the dunes - the tops were cut off (quite often by other dunes!). That same process has happened on Mars too. But in a few locations, something special has happened: entire dunes have been preserved. That must mean that the dunes formed and then were lithified quickly enough that they weren't eroded away. More than that, they may have been buried at some point, like any other rock surface. In a few locations, those dunes can be seen almost in their entirety. From orbit. It's almost like looking at an aerial photo of a bit... read more ❯

Unistellar is hiring - Communication and Community Management Internship
Published 2/26/2019 in Franck Marchis Blog Author Franck Marchis
Something unusual for my blog, but why not... Unistellar is hiring a Communication and Community Manager in Marseille, France. If you like astronomy, want to work on the south of France for a high-tech startup and share your love for science, this is a job for you! We are looking for this motivated person to start ASAP. Below the ad: Communication and Community Management Internship Our Company Unistellar is a high-tech start-up based in Marseille, France, and in California. We are developing the eVscope, a unique connected consumer telescope. Our patented light-amplification system will revolutionize astronomy by making its practice as popular as using consumer drones. You’ll join a dynamic team within an ambitious company. At Unistellar, you’ll practice communication on a global scale, and will enjoy a lot of versatility and autonomy. Mission The telescope developed by Unistellar is generating strong interest worldwide. Our pre-sales are 80% outside France and 50% in North America. Unistellar... read more ❯

Why does Lori study dunes on Mars?
Published 2/11/2019 in Lori Fenton's Blog Author lfenton
When I look for something to blog about, I usually go to the HiRISE catalog to see if there are any new pictures that I find interesting. Today this lovely dune field caught my eye: HiRISE images are about 6 km (3.7 mi) across, so that dune field is about 4 km (2.5 mi) wide and 7 km (4.3 mi) long. If you look carefully you'll see that it's a little bit weird. The entire dune field is surrounded by a crisp-edged area of sand that isn't shaped into dunes (I call it an apron). That's pretty unusual - compare it, for example, to the pretty little dune field in Noachis Terra that I blogged about a couple of months ago. Why the difference? Well the dune field I'm showing you today is located at a latitude of 63.2º S. That's technically in the southern midlatitudes,... read more ❯

Wind at the Mars InSight landing site
Published 12/27/2018 in Lori Fenton's Blog Author lfenton
InSight landed in Elysium Planitia on 26 November, 2018, about a month ago as of this writing. Pictures show that it's a flat place, with small scattered rocks lying around. Unlike in Gale crater, where Curiosity is slowly working its way up the side of a 5 km mountain with a spectacular view of the crater rim, InSight's landing spot is a little boring. InSight's view in Elysium Planitia Curiosity's view in Gale crater Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS In a way, though, that's interesting, if simply for the contrast between the two sites. Despite this big difference in relief, there is one thing the sites have in common: the big global-scale wind patterns. In Gale crater that big wind pattern is a bit muted, and the local topography can create its own winds, which can in turn either work to augment or cancel out the big global wind patterns. But nothing changes the fact that Mars'... read more ❯

Welcome Insight lander, you are on Mars!
Published 11/26/2018 in Franck Marchis Blog Author Franck Marchis
Congratulations to  NASA, JPL, Lockheed Martin and international partners for landing  the Insight Lander on Mars a few hours ago. Like millions of people, I watched the NASA Live program from JPL which showed live the landing of the InSight vehicle on the surface of Mars. Beyond the typical sensationalism (the event was nicknamed "7 minutes of terror") of the program,, NASA spent a large amount of time explaining the engineering challenges  of the EDL: Entry, Descent, Landing with its thousands of steps; the science InSight will conduct so we can better understand the interior of the Red Planet, and finally the humans involved in the building and designing such a complex mission. NASA announced that the mission has successfully landed on Elysium Planitia, near the equator of Mars... read more ❯

The martian wind is a geologist
Published 10/18/2018 in Lori Fenton's Blog Author lfenton
Right now, the Fourth Landing Site Workshop for the Mars 2020 rover mission is happening. It's the last one, and in a few hours the scientists attending the workshop will vote on which of four sites they think the rover should land. I love the geology, but mostly I love one little corner of geology: where the rocks meet the atmosphere. I like how studying the rocks can teach us about how the atmosphere, and therefore the climate, has changed over time on Mars. There are signs of windblown things pretty much anywhere you look on Mars, and since none of the landing sites is within range of an actual dune field, I'm not really partial to any of the proposed sites. One of the proposed sites is in Gusev crater, taking us back to where the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit went. That would be great - they obtained a lot of... read more ❯

Pretty little dune field in Noachis Terra
Published 10/8/2018 in Lori Fenton's Blog Author lfenton
Noachis Terra is an ancient terrain on Mars, located in the mid southern highlands. It's the home of many dune fields, big and small. Here's a fairly small one. You can't see it, but this is the floor of an unnamed crater. If you follow the link to the CTX image, you'll see that there's a much larger dune field to the south, trapped in a pit eroded into the floor of the same crater. If you look carefully, you'll see that the dunes on the east side look a bit like barchans that are migrating southwestward, and on the west side the dunes look a bit like barchans that are migrating southeastward. This dune field is here because those two winds converge at... read more ❯

Lyot crater, Mars
Published 9/28/2018 in Lori Fenton's Blog Author lfenton
It's a rough day. A tsunami in Indonesia has killed many people, and the pain is so fresh that there's not even a death count yet. A couple of my good friends are going through various personal crises that will affect them for the rest of their lives. And if you're in the US, then one way or another you're probably upset about what's going on with the Supreme Court nomination. I should be working on any number of other things. There are projects to complete, and new projects that need to get sorted out before they begin. But for the moment I need to clear my head, and I'm going to do that by talking about Lyot crater. (BTW, I made most of these screenshots using JMARS, which anybody can download for free and use. All funded by US tax dollars, making NASA's hard-won Mars images available to the world. Take... read more ❯

Complexity
Published 9/24/2018 in Lori Fenton's Blog Author lfenton
Being a geomorphologist and reading a landscape is a little bit like being one of the forensic scientists on CSI (or choose your own favorite investigative show). A Mars geomorphologist usually has to do this entirely by remote sensing. So now imagine that forensic scientist trying to piece together a crime scene by peering at images taken by a drone. On Earth, at least, a geologist can head out to the actual field site and take samples and do some honest labwork to figure out how ancient landscapes formed. Planetary scientists aren't often so lucky (although we do use analog sites on Earth to try to learn something about other worlds). Take this scene for example. I've purposefully left it at full resolution (25 cm/pixel, click on it to see), but it's not the whole image. Be sure to follow the link to the HiRISE website if you want to see... read more ❯

The End of Kepler – It’s not over yet but it will happen soon.
Published 9/20/2018 in Franck Marchis Blog Author Franck Marchis
The Kepler space telescope, which was launched in March 2009, is the tenth NASA Discovery mission and the first dedicated to searching for and studying exoplanets. It was scheduled to operate for about four years, but is still active almost a decade later and after its scientific objectives changed when it was renamed the K2 mission. Despite these tremendous successes, scientists are now concerned about the health of the spacecraft, and a team of engineers and astronomers are working together in hopes of extending the spacecraft’s data-gathering capabilities for as long as possible. In May 2013, loss of a second reaction wheel should have ended the mission, but Kepler was rebooted, renamed the K2 mission, and given a new goal: use the telescope’s high-photometric precision to observe stars and solar system objects located along the ecliptic. Each cycle of observation, which is known technically as a campaign, lasts about eighty days... read more ❯

Ever shifting
Published 9/13/2018 in Lori Fenton's Blog Author lfenton
Dunes are just so amazingly beautiful. I'll never get over how nature can sculpt such regular patterns into endlessly overlapping structures. Here's a small bit of a dune field trapped up high between mountains in the middle of Coprates Chasma. Here I'm not focusing on their setting, but rather the intricate structures of the dunes themselves. The dunes are formed by wind funneling down a narrow valley, headed towards the floor of the much bigger chasma (to the left, far offstage). Here we are in the midst of a dune field, looking at a rippled sandy surface that piles into dunes. The dunes avalanche downwind, slowly advancing forward (mainly toward the left here), as successive avalanches carry more sand down the slip faces. Ripples cover every surface they can - the wind seems to like to make them. They'll even form on slip faces, only to be erased later by avalanches... read more ❯

The end of winter
Published 8/28/2018 in Lori Fenton's Blog Author lfenton
Richardson crater is located at 72ºS, about 1000 km (~621 miles) from the south pole of Mars. It's a moderately large crater, about 90 km (56) miles across, and it's mostly filled by one of the biggest dune fields in the southern hemisphere. The dune field has been targeted repeatedly by HiRISE, with a recent count of 83 images. I've probably included images in my blog in the past, but a quick search shows I didn't label them (and I'm far too lazy to go searching). But no matter, since there are plenty of brand new images of the place to keep us happy. Like this one:   If you're confused by which way is up: the sun is shining from the left toward the right. The curvy bright... read more ❯

Different sands
Published 8/21/2018 in Lori Fenton's Blog Author lfenton
There's a lot we don't understand about the sediment on Mars. Water, wind, ice, changing temperatures, and volcanic eruptions can all break rocks into grains small enough for the wind to transport. The smallest grains are lofted by the wind, contributing to dust storms, and settling out as fine layers of dust. Slightly larger grains hop (saltate) along the ground and self-organize into beautiful ripples and dunes. Even larger grains (more than a few millimeters in diameter) might be moved by the wind on occasion - these grains are too big to saltate (unless the wind is really strong), but repeated impacts from smaller saltating grains can slowly make them move (Aeolian scientists call this sort of movement creep. Yep.). Those bigger grains can also self-organize, along with the smaller grains, into a different type of ripple. That could be what's happening in the image below. Two... read more ❯

Capturing a Snapshot of Pluto’s Atmosphere. The Story of an Occultation
Published 8/19/2018 in Franck Marchis Blog Author Franck Marchis
Last Tuesday night, a large number of amateur and professional astronomers located across Mexico, the US, and Canada took advantage of a rare and exciting opportunity: observe a blinking star while Pluto occulted it. In Southern California, the SETI Institute, the Observatoire de Paris, Unistellar, and Oceanside Photo and Telescope (OPT), one of the largest telescope retailers in the world, collaborated to observe this rare event and gather the precious data we need to understand Pluto’s atmosphere and climate. Here is our story.   Like most events in the world of modern astronomy, this one started with an email. In February 2018, I sent my colleagues at the Observatoire de Paris a message letting them know that the eVscope was ready and able to observe occultations. We had by then already observed our first occultation, by main-belt asteroid 175 Andromache, from the south of France and I wanted to get input from Bruno... read more ❯

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