Researchers receive $ 320,000 from NASA to study the polar caps of Mars


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South polar leftover lid – or the Swiss Cheese Terrains

Two U of A researchers have received a three-year grant from NASA worth $ 320,000 to study how carbon dioxide ice pits formed and developed in the polar caps of Mars over time. The aim is to better understand the seasonal and long-term cycles of these ice pits and their impact on the entire atmospheric dynamics of the planet.

Vincent Chevrier, Associate Professor at the Arkansas Center for Space and Planetary Sciences, and Jason Tullis, Professor of Geography at the Department of Geosciences and Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies, will primarily focus on the south polar residual ceiling, which is characterized by sublimation pits, colloquially referred to as “the Swiss cheese terrain”.

As on Earth, Mars’ polar caps expand in winter and shrink in summer as the CO2 sublimates and goes straight from solid to gaseous, which can create a thicker atmosphere and stronger winds. In general, the sublimation pits appear to grow over time and merge with other pits as the cap itself slowly shrinks. The researchers hope to better understand both the mechanism and timescale of the CO2 ice cycle. Were the caps put on hundreds of thousands of years ago or just a few hundred? Is their creation a recurring or unique event?

Crucial to their research will be frequent imaging from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) – an extremely powerful camera attached to the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. According to NASA, HiRISE “takes pictures that cover large areas of the Martian terrain and at the same time can see features as small as a kitchen table”.

“For 15 years, HiRISE has driven the exploration of Mars with breathtaking details that we fortunately get from every planetary orbit,” said Tullis. “For me, the convergence of spatial data technologies and origin information is extremely exciting, which supports a better implementation of the HiRISE offers.”

Does this research have any application here on earth? Yes and no.

“These caps are pretty unique to Mars,” said Chevrier. “We have no sublimation pits here on earth. Above all, we want to understand the climate of Mars. ”Although he believes that one day a better understanding of the planet’s climate would be crucial to making Mars habitable for humans, he does not believe that terraforming is so probably. At least not in the foreseeable future.

Above all, Chevrier wants to better understand the solar system and its evolution.

“The more you understand the rest of the planets,” he explained, “the more you understand why the earth is the way it is. You have to understand other planets to really understand the earth. “

About the University of Arkansas: As a flagship institution in Arkansas, the U of A offers internationally competitive education in more than 200 academic programs. Founded in 1871, the U of A carries more than $ 2.2 billion for the Arkansas economy through imparting new knowledge and skills, entrepreneurship and professional development, discovery through research and creative activity, and through the formation of professional disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation places the U of A in the top 3% of US colleges and universities with the highest research activity. US News & World Report the U of A is one of the best public universities in the nation. See how the U of A works to create a better world Arkansas research news.

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