The final week of my annual February birthday month fund-raising campaign for Behind the Black has begun. I continue to be overwhelmed by the outpouring of support, including numerous donations and a surge of new subscribers willing to commit to donating anywhere from $2 to $25 per month. Wow! The numbers are too many to send out individual thank you’s, so please forgive me for thanking you all with this one announcement.


The campaign however must go on, especially because I have added more regular features to my daily workload. In addition to my daily never-ending reporting on space exploration and science, my regular launch reports, my monthly sunspot updates, the regular cool images, and the evening pauses I post each evening, I have now added a daily weekday post I have entitled "Today's blacklisted American." Its goal is not to discuss policy or politics, but to note the endless examples occurring across the United States where some jack-booted thug or thugs think it is proper and acceptable to censor, blackball, cancel, and destroy an innocent American, merely because that American has expressed or holds an opinion or is of a race or religion that is no longer considered acceptable to the dominant leftist and bigoted culture. I want to make clear to every American that a large number of your fellow citizens no longer believe in the enlightened concept of freedom of speech or the idea of treating each person by the quality of their character.


Instead, they wish to shut you up, and oppress you if you happen to disagree with them or have the wrong skin color. This evil must be exposed.


To continue to do this into the foreseeable future however I need your support. If you are one of those millions who read Behind the Black each month, please consider donating or subscribing. Regular readers can support Behind The Black with a contribution via paypal:

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New paper: Underlying ice layer seen in Martian gullies at LOW mid-latitudes

Snow on Mars?
Click to see full image.

In a paper just published, scientists are proposing that bright areas seen in the low mid-latitude gullies on Mars are the underground ice table newly exposed as surface dust is removed.

This paper is a reiteration in more detail of a previous presentation [pdf] by these same scientists at the 2019 the 50th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Texas and reported here in March 2019.

The image to the right, from the paper, was taken by the high resolution camera of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) in 2009, and has been cropped to post here. The white streaks are what the scientists propose is that exposed underground ice table. At 32.9 south latitude, this particular gully would be the closest to the equator that such an ice layer has been identified. All the previous ice layer discoveries have been in the ice scarps found at latitudes above 50 degrees. As the paper’s lead author, Aditya Khuller at Arizona State University, explained in to me in an email, “We believe we are seeing exposures of dusty ice that likely originated as dusty snow.” From their paper:

We suggest … that the light-toned materials are exposed H2O ice. … [T]he appearance, and then subsequent disappearance of these light-toned materials, suggests that they are some form of volatile, such as dusty ice, rather than dust alone. … [The appearance] of these light-toned materials is similar to the >100m thick, light-toned ice deposits exposed on steep mid-latitude scarps, indicating that these materials are probably also ice, with some amount of dust on, and within the ice.

The layer would have likely been laid down as snow during a time period (a long time ago) when the rotational tilt of Mars, its obliquity, was much higher than today’s 25 degrees. At that time the mid-latitudes were colder than the poles, and water was sublimating from the polar ice caps to fall as snow in the mid-latitudes.

The overview map below reveals some additional intriguing possibilities.

Overview map

The white rectangle indicates the location of this particular gully. It is only about 25 miles from the abrupt end of Dao Vallis, suggesting that the ice/water that once flowed through Dao and carved it might have come out of this very ice layer at the canyon’s head.

This December 7, 2018 photo by MRO’s high resolution camera takes a look at the head of this canyon and the gullies found on its slope (its location is indicated by the red rectangle on the overview map). While there is no obvious evidence of the same bright patches and thus an ice layer, the slope wall is filled with similar gullies, all presumably formed by the same process. As the ice layer was exposed in the summer, a bit was sublimated or melted away, causing the gully to form and for the cliff to retreat slightly.

Given enough time and that retreat could form the canyon.

At this time however this is merely a hypothesis. As Khuller explained,

I have personally not seen other exposed ice at the end of Dao, but Dao does have a similar mantling layer present on much of its pole-facing walls, which are also likely to contain similar dusty ice. We are in the process of documenting more such exposures within other mid-latitude gullies.

As I noted in my March 2019 post describing this research,

As always, I think like a colonist on Mars. These cliffs now appear to me as prime real estate, places to look for easily accessible water on Mars. That they are near Hellas Basin increases their value, as the low elevation of this basin means it will have a thicker atmosphere which will ease colonization. If we can find some caves in this region, we might then have all the ingredients for building that first Martian colony.

Ironically, no one has sent or is even planning to send a rover or lander to the southern hemisphere of Mars. All research has presently been confined to either the northern lowland plains, or to the transition zone between those lowlands and the southern cratered highlands, which generally sits in the northern hemisphere or near the equator, as shown by the global map of Mars below:

Global map of Mars with all landers/rovers indicated

If I was thinking of exploring or colonizing Mars, however, the head of Dao canyon — on the northeastern border of Hellas Basin and at only about 30 degrees south latitude — appears to be prime real estate, and certainly deserves a closer look. Who wants to go?

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit.

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