How many dust devils can you find?
Published 8/28/2019 in Lori Fenton's Blog Author lfenton
Aug. 28, 2019 So I was wasting time looking for dune fields on Mars and I came across a great CTX image that's just riddled with dust devil tracks. Most of the time that's all you see, but sometimes you can spy a dust devil or two. And once in a great while you catch the dust devil engine at maximum. Below is the browse image for one such example. OK, right, you can't see any spectacular dust devils looking at this alone. That's because it's the browse image, which is a thumbnail of the actual, much bigger image, which would make WordPress pretty annoyed with me if I tried to upload here. So instead I've set it so that if you click on the image, you'll go to the image web page maintained by... read more ❯

Finding Kuiper Belt 2.0
Published 8/27/2019 in Gemini Planet Imager Author Franck Marchis
A team of astronomers led by Bin Ren (The Johns Hopkins University) imaged the debris disk system around star HD 191089 using the GPI instrument, located at 160 light-year away from us. The structure of the debris disk around this younger sibling of our Sun is strikingly similar to our own Kuiper Belt. New technology available maybe in 2030s, like the giant space telescopes (HabEx & LUVOIR) could one day tell if there is also an Earth 2.0 with the Belt delivering water right now, or is there an exotic world that we have never seen or imagined, or maybe (and sadly) if there is nothing but void.  Written by Bin Ren and posted on the Cosmic Diary GPI Blog Post with her permission.   The Kuiper Belt Since NASA’s New Horizons’ visit to Pluto in 2015, the spacecraft began its journey in the hometown of Halley’s Comet---the Kuiper Belt. Kuiper Belt is a... read more ❯

<3 on Mars
Published 8/22/2019 in Lori Fenton's Blog Author lfenton
Aug. 22, 2019 Yeah, yeah, I should be working. But I had to do this. I found a heart❤️ on Mars made by dust devils:   The wind blows dust devils around, so sometimes they meander this way and that. Straighter paths are probably created by stronger winds, which sweep the dust devils along in a straight line. Curvy tracks like these are probably made when the winds are weaker, so the dust devil paths are more affected by turbulent convective activity, which can move in any direction. OK, now back to work... read more ❯

Dunes or bacteria?
Published 8/21/2019 in Lori Fenton's Blog Author lfenton
Aug. 21, 2019 Trolling through the HiRISE image catalog, I came across some dunes that look a bit like bacteria. (Well okay, they look like some sort of microbe to my eye, which is highly untrained in looking at microbes, so if that's your thing then go ahead and shake your head. I'll wait. Ready to move on?) (On the other hand, if you have a pic of microbes that look like this, let me know.) (Oh and I want to give a shout-out to a new Youtube channel Journey to the Microcosmos, which is absolutely mesmerizing.) See what I mean? But no, these are big sand dunes, located on the north polar plains. They're covered in winter frost that has just begun to sublimate away (this image was taken in mid-spring). Here's a close-up that's in color, showing the ripples that cover most... read more ❯

Bask in Mars' beauty, because you can
Published 8/5/2019 in Lori Fenton's Blog Author lfenton
August 5, 2019 It's been a while since I posted anything. Not because I didn't want to, but because I'm involved in so many projects that many things I love are being shoved aside for whatever has to be dealt with at any given moment. It was a rough weekend and end of the week in the US - there have been a few quite prominent mass shootings. I'm not going to get political about it here. I'm just going to share my personal escape route from it all: gorgeous Mars. So. Here are a couple of scenes from Ius Chasma, one of Mars' big valleys (it's part of Valles Marineris - the word "Valles" is plural, since the area has a ton of huge cracks in it - Ius Chasma is one of the bigger ones). These frames come from this HiRISE image. If you follow that link and scroll down you'll... read more ❯

TMT controversy. I vote for healing
Published 7/21/2019 in Franck Marchis Blog Author Franck Marchis
I’ve been quiet on the TMT controversy not through choice but because it erupted while I was traveling, and because it’s an important topic that needs more than a tweet to discuss. Let me begin by saying that I love astronomy and science—but I also understand the heritage and cultural importance of Maunakea to the people of Hawaii. As a POC (Malagasy-Indian, and from Reunion island), I question the way we have, and are currently, handling this situation. True, the people behind the TMT have been patient, taken lots of time, and gone to enormous pains to complete all the paperwork necessary to certify the project. They have also attended countless hearings to make the project better and more respectful of both the environment and Hawaiian culture. I admire my colleagues at the TMT who worked around the clock to improve the project—they did the best they could under trying circumstances, and... read more ❯

Dust Devil Fieldwork #5: Summary
Published 7/11/2019 in Lori Fenton's Blog Author lfenton
July 11, 2019 This is Part 5 of a series on my dust devil fieldwork in 2019 (see Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4). We came back home a couple of weeks ago. I'd say our field campaign was a great success, considering how much data we collected. I've started sorting through it and it's going to take me a while to start making sense of it. I want to give a shout out to our undergraduate students from St. Lawrence University, Banner Cole and Owen Sprau, and to our graduate student from UCLA, Taylor Dorn. There's no way we could have accomplished all we did without their help, and I'm grateful they were there. I am of course also grateful to have had awesome help from my colleagues Steve Metzger and Stephen Scheidt, who know way more about cameras and meteorology instruments than I do, and to... read more ❯

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 ❯