Tag Archives: Mars Odyssey

An avalanche pile on Mars

Avalanche pile on Mars

Cool image time! The Mars Odyssey science team has released this very interesting image, cropped on the right, of an avalanche debris pile formed when the large section of cliff on the left broke off and collapsed into the valley below. The valley is called Tiu Valles and is located close to Mars’ equator.

The wide spread of the debris is an indication of several things. For one, it illustrates the light Martian gravity, which allowed the debris to flow much farther than it would have on Earth.

For another, the spread of the debris pile suggests to me that the material that fell was very crumbly. It might have been able to hold together as a cliff for a long time, but when it collapsed the material broke apart almost like sand. Think of a sand castle you might have built as a kid on the beach. With a little moisture you can pack the sand to form solid shapes, but if your shape breaks apart the sand falls not as large blocks but as crumbly soft and loose sand. That is what appears to have happened here.

There is also the suggestion to me that water might have been involved somehow in this collapse. I am not a geologist so this speculation on my part is very unreliable. However, the shape of the debris pile suggests a liquid flow. The flow itself wasn’t liquid, but liquid might have somehow been involved in causing this geological event. We would need a geologist however to clarify these guesses on my part.

Wind erosion on Mars

Wind erosion on Mars

Cool image time! The image on the right, cropped to show here, was taken by Mars Odyssey. While the features shown appear at first glance to have been formed by water, they have instead in etched by wind.

The narrow ridge/valley system seen in this image are a feature called yardangs. Yardangs form when unidirectional winds blow across poorly cemented materials. Multiple yardang directions can indicate changes in regional wind regimes.

The release does not say what direction the wind was blowing, but if I had to guess, I’d say from south to north.

Vast Martian dune fields

Olympia Undae dune field

Cool image time! In the past few days the Themis camera on Mars Odyssey has taken two pictures of the vast Olympia Undae dune field near Mars’s north pole. The image to the right is only a cropped, lower resolution section of one of those images.

The image was taken during the summer, so most of the winter frost has evaporated away. Unfortunately, the website does not provide a scale, though they say the full images each cover about 12 by 43 miles of territory. Yet, both images capture only very tiny portions of the dune field, which apparently goes on and on for many hundreds of miles in all directions, looking exactly the same wherever you look.

Just imagine trying to travel though this area. It is the epitome of a trackless waste. And without some form of GPS system getting lost forever would be incredibly easy.

Curiosity is out of safe mode and will be resuming full science operations by next week.

Curiosity is out of safe mode and will be resuming full science operations by next week.

It is imperative that the engineers clear up these computer problems now, as communications with the rover will be limited in April because the sun will be in the way.

Transmissions from Earth to the orbiters [Mars Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter] will be suspended while Mars and the sun are two degrees or less apart in the sky, from April 9 to 26, with restricted commanding during additional days before and after. Both orbiters will continue science observations on a reduced basis compared to usual operations. Both will receive and record data from the rovers. Odyssey will continue transmissions Earthward throughout April, although engineers anticipate some data dropouts, and the recorded data will be retransmitted later.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will go into a record-only mode on April 4. “For the entire conjunction period, we’ll just be storing data on board,” said Deputy Mission Manager Reid Thomas of JPL. He anticipates that the orbiter could have about 40 gigabits of data from its own science instruments and about 12 gigabits of data from Curiosity accumulated for sending to Earth around May 1.

NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity is approaching its fifth solar conjunction. Its team will send no commands between April 9 and April 26. The rover will continue science activities using a long-term set of commands to be sent beforehand.

Mars Odyssey went into safe mode on Wednesday for about 21 hours.

Mars Odyssey went into safe mode on Wednesday for about 21 hours.

The orbiter has had increasing issues recently. Since it is used mostly as a communications satellite, this has impacts data downloads mostly from the rover Opportunity, and will a bigger problem once Curiosity arrives in August.

Engineers have successfully tested a spare reaction wheel on Mars Odyssey in their effort to bring the spacecraft back into full operation.

Engineers have successfully tested a spare reaction wheel on Mars Odyssey in their effort to bring the spacecraft back into full operation.

After more than 11 years of non-operational storage, the spare reaction wheel passed preliminary tests on Wednesday, June 12, spinning at up to 5,000 rotations per minute forward and backward. Odyssey engineers plan to substitute it for a reaction wheel they have assessed as no longer reliable. That wheel stuck for a few minutes last week, causing Odyssey to put itself into safe mode on June 8, Universal Time (June 7, Pacific Time).

Mars Odyssey put itself into safe mode on Friday when it detected problems with one of the three reaction wheels used to orient the spacecraft.

Mars Odyssey put itself into safe mode on Friday when it detected problems with one of the three reaction wheels used to orient the spacecraft.

If this space probe goes down, it will make it more difficult to rely data back from Opportunity, now on the Martian surface, and Curiosity, due to land in two months.