Tag Archives: Lunar & Planetary Science Conference

Friday at the non-existent Lunar & Planetary Science Conference

Global distribution of Martian ice scarps
Today was supposed to have been the last day at the cancelled 51st annual Lunar & Planetary Science conference. As such, only a half day of presentations had been scheduled in order to give participants the option of returning home sooner.

While many of the abstracts of the planned-but-now-cancelled presentations were on subjects important to the scientists but not so interesting to the general public, two sessions, one on Martian buried glaciers/ice and a second focused on Mercury, would have made the day very worthwhile to this science journalist, had I been there.

The map above, from the first abstract [pdf] of the Mars session, might possibly epitomize our present knowledge of ice/glaciers on Mars. It provides an update of the continuing survey of ice scarps in the high mid-latitudes of Mars (see the most recent post on Behind the Black from February 12, 2020). Clearly, the more they look, the more they find of these ice scarps, cliff faces with visible exposed pure ice layers that will be relatively easy to access.

But then, finding evidence of some form of buried ice on Mars is becoming almost routine. Of the thirteen abstracts in this Mars session, ten described some sort of evidence of buried ice or glaciers on Mars, in all sorts of places, with the remaining three abstracts studying similar Earth features for comparison. The scientists found evidence of water ice on the top of one of Mars’ largest volcanoes (abstract #2299 [pdf]), in faults and fissures near the equator (#1997 [pdf]), in the eastern margin of one of Mars’ largest deep basins (#3070 [pdf]), in Gale Crater (#2609 [pdf]), in the transition zone between the northern lowlands and southern highlands (#1074 [pdf]), and of course in the northern mid-latitude lowland plains (#2648 [pdf] and #2872 [pdf]).

The results tell us not that there is water ice on Mars, but that it is very plentiful, and that its presence and behavior (as glaciers, as snowfall, and as an underground aquifer) make it a major factor in explaining the geology we see on Mars. I’ve even begun to get a sense that among the planetary scientists researching Mars there is an increasing consideration that maybe ice formed many of the river-like features we see on the surface, not flowing water as has been assumed for decades. This theory has not yet become dominate or even popular, but I have been seeing mention of it increasingly in papers, in one form or another.

If this possibility becomes accepted, it would help solve many Martian geological mysteries, primary of which is the fact that scientists cannot yet explain how water flowed as liquid on the surface some time ago in Mars’ long geological history, given its theorized atmosphere and climate. If ice did the shaping, then liquid water (in large amounts) would not be required.

Now, on to the Mercury session.
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Thursday at the non-existent Lunar & Planetary Science Conference

Jezero Crater, under theorized ocean

It is now time for today’s virtual report from the non-existent 51st annual Lunar & Planetary Science conference, cancelled because of the terrified fear of COVID-19.

Unlike the previous three days, the bulk of the abstracts for presentations planned for today are more what I like to call “in-the-weeds” reports. The science is all good, but it is more obscure, the kind of work the scientists will be interested in but will generally hold little interest to the general public. For example, while very important for designing future missions, most of the public (along with myself) is not very interested in modeling studies that improve the interpretation of instrument data.

This does not mean there were no abstracts of interest. On the contrary. For today the most interesting sessions in the conference program centered on Mars as well as research attempting to better track, identify, and study Near Earth asteroids (NEAs).

The map above for example shows the location of Jezero Crater, where the rover Perseverance will land in 2021, under what one abstract [pdf] proposed might have been an intermittent ocean. The dark blue indicates where the topography suggests that ocean might have existed, while also indicating its shoreline. If it existed in the past, Perseverance might thus find evidence of features that were “marine in origin.” This ocean would also help explain the gigantic river-like delta that appears to pour into Jezero Crater from its western highland rim.

There were a lot of other abstracts looking closely at Jezero Crater, all in preparation for the upcoming launch of Perseverance in July, some mapping the site’s geology, others studying comparable sites here on Earth.

Other Mars-related abstracts of interest:
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Wednesday at the non-existent Lunar & Planetary Science Conference

The Moon's south pole

My virtual coverage of the cancelled 51st annual Lunar & Planetary Science conference continues today with a review of the abstracts of presentations that were planned for today, but unfortunately will never be presented.

As a side note, the social shutdown being imposed on America due to the panic over COVID-19 has some side benefits, as has been noted in a bunch of stories today. Not only will this possibly destroy the power the left has on college campuses as universities quickly shift to online courses, it will also likely put an end to the endless science conferences that are usually paid for by U.S. tax dollars. (That cost includes not just the expense of the conference, but the fees and transportation costs of the participants, almost all of whom get the money from either their government job or through research grants from the government.)

Anyway, for good or ill, the virus shut down the planetary conference in Texas this week, forcing me to post these daily summaries based not on real presentations where I would have interviewed the scientists and gotten some questions answered, but on their abstracts placed on line beforehand. Today, the three big subjects were the south pole of the Moon (as shown in the map above from one abstract [pdf], produced by one instrument on Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter [LRO]), the Martian environment, and Titan. I will take them it that order.
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