Welcome back, everybody! I have been working on my independent study for about 2 months now. It has been very challenging. My content advisor and I ran into multiple bumps in the road, which made meeting and discussing quite difficult. I haven’t been posting blogs as much as I wanted to because, frankly, I had nothing to say… It’s a long story. A few days ago, what I learned made my heart dropped. I had been looking at the Syrtis Major complex for a while now, searching every inch of usable area. I found multiple lava tubes, but no openings or caves. I then transferred over to the Elysius Mons complex, which is in the middle of the frozen ocean. And I found nothing, no lava caves, and not even a single tube! This is shocking, and very important information for the future of space travel and human colonization. This discovery, in short, means that we should not go to Mars. Now that is a very loaded sentence, that isn’t entirely true… we should go to mars, but it would not be an option for long-term coliniztion. In the next coming weeks, I will be writing my thesis, my final project which will consist of everything that I have learned. Stay tuned for that!
So far, my independent study is going great. In the beginning, before learning, I thought I was going to be totally confused, but it actually turned out to be just my cup of tea. Learning about how to use JMARS and HiRise so far has been a blast. I have been finding lava tubes left and right. I learned about the Volcanic history of mars ( look at the blog post before this!), which sort of surprised me. I knew that there was frozen Ice on mars, but learning things like that the surface is actually basalt rather than dirt took me by surprise. HiRise, while it is super fun to use, has been kind of difficult to figure out. Since they mapped the whole entirety of mars, It is hard to find small, specific places. You kind of have to click around and hope for the best. It’s a guessing game. I haven’t been able to hit my 5-7 hr/ week expectation, but that is because I am still in the starting phase. I expect once I get further into my project, and get off the runway, I will be spending more time. If you want a more detailed rundown of exactly what I am doing now- here it is! SpaceX has been exploring landing in the flat northern plains of Mars where there is water ice near the surface. We feel that this is not ideal since there is little protection from solar radiation. Caves on Mars, which would be protective, have been found in volcanic complexes where underground lava tubes are present. All caves that are documented, however, are in high elevations of the Tharsis complex, which shows little sign of water ice and would be a difficult landing site. We believe that the eastern flank of Syrtis Major, a shield volcano that is adjacent to a low-lying area that has been shown to have signs of near-surface water ice, a flat surface, and which has lava tubes, might be a safe landing site that offers access to water and protection from solar radiation. We are currently searching that area for signs of accessible caves near a source of water ice. Your sources of images are the THEMIS (Thermal Emissions Infrared camera) and HiRise (a high-resolution camera). Both cameras are in Mars orbit. Here are the places that we are focusing on!
Last week I learned about the volcanic history of Mars. Some of this stuff actually took me by surprise. So: about 4 billion years ago, Mars had a much thicker atmosphere. Also, a lot of the features that you see today ( low areas near the northern part) had pools of very acidic water in them. Mars lost its magnetic field about 3.8 billion years ago, followed by a sudden volcanic event, which caused Tharsis – which is near the western part of the planet, consisting of Olympus Mons ( a volcano bigger than Mount Everest!). During this time, a lot of water flowed into the northern part of the planet. They lost their magnetic field because it is a small planet with an iron core, this, together caused the planet to cool off much faster, also because the core isn’t liquid like Earth’s is. The core crystallized, and any water on the planet was stripped by the solar wind. The water now has to be underground, frozen, or in clay miners. The Northern part of mars has a very low elevation because scientists believe there was an ocean north of Tharsis. Yes! An ocean!! Like the ones we have on Earth!!! The southern part of mars is heavily cratered, which tells us that that part of the planet is older than the northern part. A lot of these craters are filled with Basalt. Basalt is the same rock that is seen in Hawaii. Most of these craters are caused by, you guessed it, asteroids! There are a couple of craters that I would like to note. Hellas Venetia, a crater, is the lowest elevation on mars. This asteroid actually came close to breaking the surface of mars. There is another crater, southeast of Tharsis. that also came closer to breaking the surface of mars. The rocks around this crater show us that there was a magnetic field. The basalt in these craters and on the surface of Mars is mafic rock- rocks rich in magnesium and iron. Mars is somewhere between Earth, which is not mafic, and the moon, which is super Mafic. So if you need some extra iron and magnesium, the moon is there for you! One thing that took me super by surprise is that Space X actually isn’t looking for lava tubes, they are looking for places in the high northern plains. But, their rover, Phoenix, when it was landing, blasted away some of the basalt and showed frozen ice underneath the surface! So that’s it! We are focusing on Syrtis, a plateau in the eastern part of mars. I started looking for lava tubes using HiRise last week and found one. They kind of look disturbing at first, like veins, but they are actually pretty cool. HiRise is difficult to use because it shows Mars on such a large scale. It is hard to find detailed, specific places. Have a good week! Heres a good luck Lava Tube for you!