Martian Caves Located... Apr 3, 2007 23:36:01 GMT -6
Post by Chicago Astronomer Joe on Apr 3, 2007 23:36:01 GMT -6
Possible New Mars Caves Targets in Search for Life
A Mars-orbiting satellite recently spotted seven dark spots near the planet's equator that scientists think could be entrances to underground caves.
The football-field sized holes were observed by Mars Odyssey's Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) and have been dubbed the seven sisters --Dena, Chloe, Wendy, Annie, Abbey, Nikki and Jeanne--after loved ones of the researchers who found them. The potential caves were spotted near a massive Martian volcano, Arisa Mons. Their openings range from about 330 to 820 feet (100 to 250 meters) wide, and one of them, Dena, is thought to extend nearly 430 feet (130 meters) beneath the planet's surface.
The researchers hope the discovery will lead to more focused spelunking on Mars.
"Caves on Mars could become habitats for future explorers or could be the only structures that preserve evidence of past or present microbial life ," said Glenn Cushing of Northern Arizona University, who first spotted the black areas in the photographs.
A project here on Earth aims to refine the visual and infrared techniques THEMIS used to find the Martian caves and to also develop robots that can one day enter the caverns and explore them.
The data, still being analyzed, look promising. In one series of images, the researchers snapped thermal images of Xenolith Cave in New Mexico over a 24-hour period. The cave opening can be seen clearly in some of the images.
"It jumps out at you," said Jut Wynne, a biospeleologist (cave biologist) with the U.S. Geological Survey and Northern Arizona University. "It lights up like a Christmas tree in the predawn and in the late-night shots. It's a bit more ephemeral during the day shots."
In Phase 2, the researchers will tweak their technique to figure out the best wavelengths to use and optimal times during the day for cave hunting. "In so doing, we're going to take these applications and then apply them to an orbiter platform for Mars," said Wynne, who is also the Earth-Mars Cave Detection Program project leader.
I wonder what mysteries will be found in the Martian caves.