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Active dust devils on Mars: a comparison of six spacecraft landing sites

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Dust devils have proven to be commonplace on Mars, although their occurrence is unevenly distributed across the surface. They were imaged or inferred by all six successful landed spacecraft: the

Dust devils have proven to be commonplace on Mars, although their occurrence is unevenly distributed across the surface. They were imaged or inferred by all six successful landed spacecraft: the Viking 1 and 2 Landers (VL-1 and VL-2), Mars Pathfinder Lander, the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity, and the Phoenix Mars Lander. Comparisons of dust devil parameters were based on results from optical and meteorological (MET) detection campaigns. Spatial variations were determined based on comparisons of their frequency, morphology, and behavior. The Spirit data spanning three consecutive martian years is used as the basis of comparison because it is the most extensive on this topic. Average diameters were between 8 and 115 m for all observed or detected dust devils. The average horizontal speed for all of the studies was roughly 5 m/s. At each site dust devil densities peaked between 09:00 and 17:00 LTST during the spring and summer seasons supporting insolation-driven convection as the primary formation mechanism. Seasonal number frequency averaged ~1 dust devils/ km2/sol and spanned a total of three orders of magnitude. Extrapolated number frequencies determined for optical campaigns at the Pathfinder and Spirit sites accounted for temporal and spatial inconsistencies and averaged ~19 dust devils/km2/sol. Dust fluxes calculated from Pathfinder data (5x10-4 kg/m2/s and 7x10-5 kg/m2/s) were well with in the ranges calculated from Spirit data (4.0x10-9 to 4.6x10-4 kg/m2/s for Season One, 5.2x10-7 to 6.2x10-5 kg/m2/s during Season Two, and 1.5x10-7 to 1.6x10-4 kg/m2/s during Season Three). Based on the results a campaign is written for improvements in dust devil detection at the Mars Science Laboratory's (MSL) site. Of the four remaining candidate MSL sites, the dusty plains of Gale crater may potentially be the site with the highest probability of dust devil activity.

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Date Created
  • 2011

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High-resolution Martian soil thickness derived from yearly surface temperatures

Description

The temperature of a planet's surface depends on numerous physical factors, including thermal inertia, albedo and the degree of insolation. Mars is a good target for thermal measurements because the

The temperature of a planet's surface depends on numerous physical factors, including thermal inertia, albedo and the degree of insolation. Mars is a good target for thermal measurements because the low atmospheric pressure combined with the extreme dryness results in a surface dominated by large differences in thermal inertia, minimizing the effect of other physical properties. Since heat is propagated into the surface during the day and re-radiated at night, surface temperatures are affected by sub-surface properties down to several thermal skin depths. Because of this, orbital surface temperature measurements combined with a computational thermal model can be used to determine sub-surface structure. This technique has previously been applied to estimate the thickness and thermal inertia of soil layers on Mars on a regional scale, but the Mars Odyssey Thermal Emission Imaging System "THEMIS" instrument allows much higher-resolution thermal imagery to be obtained. Using archived THEMIS data and the KRC thermal model, a process has been developed for creating high-resolution maps of Martian soil layer thickness and thermal inertia, allowing investigation of the distribution of dust and sand at a scale of 100 m/pixel.

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Date Created
  • 2013

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The effect of Rayleigh-Taylor instabilities on the thickness of undifferentiated crust on Kuiper Belt objects like Charon

Description

In this thesis I model the thermal and structural evolution of Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs) and explore their ability to retain undifferentiated crusts of rock and ice over geologic timescales.

In this thesis I model the thermal and structural evolution of Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs) and explore their ability to retain undifferentiated crusts of rock and ice over geologic timescales. Previous calculations by Desch et al. (2009) predicted that initially homogenous KBOs comparable in size to Charon (R ~ 600 km) have surfaces too cold to permit the separation of rock and ice, and should always retain thick (~ 85 km) crusts, despite the partial differentiation of rock and ice inside the body. The retention of a thermally insulating, undifferentiated crust is favorable to the maintenance of subsurface liquid and potentially cryovolcanism on the KBO surface. A potential objection to these models is that the dense crust of rock and ice overlying an ice mantle represents a gravitationally unstable configuration that should overturn by Rayleigh-Taylor (RT) instabilities. I have calculated the growth rate of RT instabilities at the ice-crust interface, including the effect of rock on the viscosity. I have identified a critical ice viscosity for the instability to grow significantly over the age of the solar system. I have calculated the viscosity as a function of temperature for conditions relevant to marginal instability. I find that RT instabilities on a Charon-sized KBO require temperatures T > 143 K. Including this effect in thermal evolution models of KBOs, I find that the undifferentiated crust on KBOs is thinner than previously calculated, only ~ 50 km. While thinner, this crustal thickness is still significant, representing ~ 25% of the KBO mass, and helps to maintain subsurface liquid throughout most of the KBO's history.

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Date Created
  • 2013

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The Geologic History of the Hypanis Deposit, Mars and Ballistic Modeling of Lunar Impact Ejecta

Description

Water has shaped the surface of Mars, recording previous environments and inspiring the search for extinct life beyond Earth. While conditions on the Martian surface today are not conducive to

Water has shaped the surface of Mars, recording previous environments and inspiring the search for extinct life beyond Earth. While conditions on the Martian surface today are not conducive to the presence of liquid water, ancient erosional and depositional features indicate that this was not always so. Quantifying the regional and global history of water on Mars is crucial to understanding how the planet evolved, where to focus future exploration, and implications for water on Earth.

Many sites on Mars contain layered sedimentary deposits, sinuous valleys with delta shaped deposits, and other indications of large lakes. The Hypanis deposit is a unique endmember in this set of locations as it appears to be the largest ancient river delta identified on the planet, and it appears to have no topographic boundary, implying deposition into a sea. I have used a variety of high-resolution remote sensing techniques and geologic mapping techniques to present a new model of past water activity in the region.

I gathered new orbital observations and computed thermal inertia, albedo, elevation, and spectral properties of the Hypanis deposit. I measured the strike and dip of deposit layers to interpret the sedimentary history. My results indicate that Hypanis was formed in a large calm lacustrine setting. My geomorphic mapping of the deposit and catchment indicates buried volatile-rich sediments erupted through the Chryse basin fill, and may be geological young or ongoing. Collectively, my results complement previous studies that propose a global paleoshoreline, and support interpretations that Mars had an ocean early in its history. Future missions to the Martian surface should consider Hypanis as a high-value sampling opportunity.

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Date Created
  • 2019

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Identification and Quantitative Classification of Europa’s Microfeatures: Implications for Microfeature Formation Models and the Europa Clipper Flagship Mission

Description

Jupiter’s moon Europa is an active target of research because of its unique geology and its potential for habitability. Europa’s icy chaos disrupts and transforms the previous terrain, suggesting melting

Jupiter’s moon Europa is an active target of research because of its unique geology and its potential for habitability. Europa’s icy chaos disrupts and transforms the previous terrain, suggesting melting is involved. Chaos occurs alongside several types of endogenic surface features. These microfeatures are under <100 km2 in area and include uplifts and domes, pits, spots, and hybrid features. The distribution of microfeatures is known in the ~10% of the Europa’s surface that are covered by the regional mosaics (“RegMaps”). The efforts to connect microfeature formation to any kind of heat transport in Europa are confounded because microfeatures are difficult to identify outside of RegMaps because of low image resolutions. Finding microfeatures outside of RegMaps would provide new observational constraints for microfeature formation models.

First, I mapped microfeatures across four of Europa’s RegMaps and validated them against other mapping datasets. Microchaos features are the most numerous, followed by pits, domes, then hybrids. Spots are the least common features, and the smallest. Next, I mapped features in low-resolution images that covered the E15RegMap01 area to determine error rates and sources of omission or misclassification for features mapped in low-resolution images. Of all features originally mapped in the RegMap, pits and domes were the least likely to be re-mapped or positively identified (24.2% and 5%, respectively). Chaos, spots, and hybrids were accurately classified over 70% of the time. Quantitatively classifying these features using discriminant function analysis yielded comparable values of accuracy when compared to a human mapper. Finally, nearest-neighbor clustering analyses were used to show that pits are clustered in all regions, while chaos, domes, and hybrids vary in terms of their spatial clustering.

This work suggests that the most likely processes for microfeature formations is either the evolution of liquid water sills within Europa’s ice shell or cryovolcanism. Future work extending to more areas outside of the RegMaps can further refine microfeature formation models. The detection of liquid water at or near the surface is a major goal of multiple upcoming Europa missions; this work provides predictions that can be directly tested by these missions to maximize their scientific return.

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Date Created
  • 2019

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Wind-driven modification of small bedforms in Gusev Crater, Mars

Description

ABSTRACT

The Spirit landing site in Gusev Crater has been imaged by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera more than thirty times since 2006. The

ABSTRACT

The Spirit landing site in Gusev Crater has been imaged by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera more than thirty times since 2006. The breadth of this image set allowed a study of changes to surface features, covering four Mars years.

Small fields of bedforms comprised of dark material, and dark dust devil tracks are among the features revealed in the images. The bedforms are constrained within craters on the plains, and unconstrained in depressions less than 200m wide within the topography of the Columbia Hills, a ~120m-high structure in center of Gusev. Dust devil tracks appear in many images of the bedforms.

Within the Columbia Hills, three bedform fields approximately 180m2 and composed of fine dark basaltic sand were studied, using five HiRISE images taken from 2006 to 2014. Both bedform crests and the dust devil tracks superimposed on them were evaluated for change to azimuth and length, and for correlation between the features. The linear to slightly sinuous transverse crests ranging from less than 1m to 113m in length and two to three meters in wavelength, are primary bedforms. During the study they shifted as much as 33 degrees in azimuth, and individual crests moved on the surface as much as 0.75m. The greatest changes corresponded to a global dust storm in 2007. Average crest movement was documented at the rate of 0.25m per year. Rather than moving progressively, the crests eventually returned to near their original orientation after the storm. The dust devil tracks, reflecting a more complex wind regime, including vortex development during diurnal heating, maintained predominantly NW-SE orientations but also reflected the effects of the storm.

The observed modifications were neither progressive, nor strictly seasonal. The apparent stability of the bedform geometry over four seasons supports the predictions of the Mars Regional Atmospheric Modeling System (MRAMS): low speed (1-7.5 ms-1), daily alternating winds of relatively equal force. Crest profiles were found to be nearly symmetrical, without slipfaces to indicate a preferential wind direction; this finding also is supported by the MRAMS model.

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Date Created
  • 2016

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Ponds, flows, and ejecta of impact cratering and volcanism: a remote sensing perspective of a dynamic Moon

Description

Both volcanism and impact cratering produce ejecta and associated deposits incorporating a molten rock component. While the heat sources are different (exogenous vs. endogenous), the end results are landforms with

Both volcanism and impact cratering produce ejecta and associated deposits incorporating a molten rock component. While the heat sources are different (exogenous vs. endogenous), the end results are landforms with similar morphologies including ponds and flows of impact melt and lava around the central crater. Ejecta from both impact and volcanic craters can also include a high percentage of melted rock. Using Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera Narrow Angle Camera (LROC NAC) images, crucial details of these landforms are finally revealed, suggesting a much more dynamic Moon than is generally appreciated. Impact melt ponds and flows at craters as small as several hundred meters in diameter provide empirical evidence of abundant melting during the impact cratering process (much more than was previously thought), and this melt is mobile on the lunar surface for a significant time before solidifying. Enhanced melt deposit occurrences in the lunar highlands (compared to the mare) suggest that porosity, target composition, and pre-existing topography influence melt production and distribution. Comparatively deep impact craters formed in young melt deposits connote a relatively rapid evolution of materials on the lunar surface. On the other end of the spectrum, volcanic eruptions have produced the vast, plains-style mare basalts. However, little was previously known about the details of small-area eruptions and proximal volcanic deposits due to a lack of resolution. High-resolution images reveal key insights into small volcanic cones (0.5-3 km in diameter) that resemble terrestrial cinder cones. The cones comprise inter-layered materials, spatter deposits, and lava flow breaches. The widespread occurrence of the cones in most nearside mare suggests that basaltic eruptions occur from multiple sources in each basin and/or that rootless eruptions are relatively common. Morphologies of small-area volcanic deposits indicate diversity in eruption behavior of lunar basaltic eruptions driven by magmatic volatiles. Finally, models of polar volatile behavior during impact-heating suggest that chemical alteration of minerals in the presence of liquid water is one possible outcome that was previously not thought possible on the Moon.

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Date Created
  • 2016