Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Laser Provides First 3-D View Of Mars' North Pole

Date:
December 8, 1998
Source:
National Aeronautics And Space Administration
Summary:
Measurements by a laser altimeter instrument orbiting aboard NASA's Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft are providing striking new views of the north pole of the red planet and the processes that have shaped it.

Measurements by a laser altimeter instrument orbiting aboard NASA's Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft are providing striking new views of the north pole of the red planet and the processes that have shaped it.

This first three-dimensional picture of Mars' north pole enables scientists to estimate the volume of its water ice cap with unprecedented precision, and to study its surface variations and the heights of clouds in the region for the first time.

The elevation measurements were collected by the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA) aboard Global Surveyor during the spring and summer of 1998, as the spacecraft orbited Mars in an interim elliptical orbit. MOLA sends laser pulses toward the planet and measures the precise amount of time before the reflected signals are received back at the instrument. From this data, scientists can infer surface and cloud heights.

Approximately 2.6 million of these laser pulse measurements were assembled into a topographic grid of the north pole with a spatial resolution of .6 miles (one kilometer) and a vertical accuracy of 15-90 feet (5-30 meters). A peer-reviewed paper based on the measurements will be published in the Dec. 11 issue of Science magazine.

The topographic map reveals that the ice cap is about 750 miles (1,200 kilometers) across, with a maximum thickness of 1.8 miles (3 kilometers). The cap is cut by canyons and troughs that plunge to as deep as 0.6 miles (1 kilometer) beneath the surface. "Similar features do not occur on any glacial or polar terrain on Earth," said Dr. Maria Zuber of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD. "They appear to be carved by wind and evaporation of ice."

The MOLA data also reveal that large areas of the ice cap are extremely smooth, with elevations that vary by only a few feet over many miles. In some areas the ice cap is surrounded by large mounds of ice, tens of miles across and up to half a mile in height. "These structures appear to be remnants of the cap from a time when it was larger than at present," Zuber said. Impact craters surrounding the cap appear to be filled with ice and dust that was either deposited by wind or condensation, or perhaps remains from an earlier period when the ice cap was larger.

The shape of the polar cap indicates that it is composed primarily of water ice, with a volume of 300,000 cubic miles (1.2 million cubic kilometers). The cap has an average thickness of 0.64 miles (1.03 kilometers) and covers an area 1.5 times the size of Texas. For comparison, the volume of the Martian north polar cap is less than half that of the Greenland ice cap, and about four percent of the Antarctic ice sheet.

The estimated volume of the north ice cap is about 10 times less than the minimum volume of an ancient ocean that some scientists believe once existed on Mars. If a large body of water once existed on the red planet, the remainder of the water must presently be stored below the surface and in the much smaller south polar cap, or have been lost to space. But such a large amount of unaccounted-for water is not easily explained by current models of Martian evolution.

During its mapping of the north polar cap, the MOLA instrument also made the first direct measurement of cloud heights on the red planet. Reflections from the atmosphere were obtained at altitudes from just above the surface to more than nine miles (approximately 15 kilometers) on about 80 percent of the laser profiles. Most clouds were observed at high latitudes, at the boundary of the ice cap and surrounding terrain.

Clouds observed over the polar cap are likely composed of carbon dioxide that condenses out of the atmosphere during northern hemisphere winter. Many clouds exhibit dynamic structure probably caused by winds interacting with surface topography, much as occurs on Earth when winds collide with mountains to produce turbulence.

The principal investigator for MOLA is Dr. David E. Smith of Goddard. The MOLA instrument was designed and built by the Laser Remote Sensing Branch of Laboratory for Terrestrial Physics at Goddard. The Mars Global Surveyor Mission is managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA, for the NASA Office of Space Science.

Further information about MOLA and images created from its measurements of the north pole are available on the Internet at the following address: http://ltpwww.gsfc.nasa.gov/tharsis/mola.html

A color image of the north pole from the camera aboard Mars Global Surveyor is available at: http://www.msss.com/mars/global_surveyor/camera/images/MENUS/poles_list.html


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by National Aeronautics And Space Administration. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

National Aeronautics And Space Administration. "Laser Provides First 3-D View Of Mars' North Pole." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 December 1998. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1998/12/981208054116.htm>.
National Aeronautics And Space Administration. (1998, December 8). Laser Provides First 3-D View Of Mars' North Pole. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 30, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1998/12/981208054116.htm
National Aeronautics And Space Administration. "Laser Provides First 3-D View Of Mars' North Pole." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1998/12/981208054116.htm (accessed July 30, 2014).

Share This




More Space & Time News

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: Rocket Launches Into Space With Cargo Ship

Raw: Rocket Launches Into Space With Cargo Ship

AP (July 30, 2014) Arianespace launched a rocket Tuesday from French Guiana carrying a robotic cargo ship to deliver provisions to the International Space Station. (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
In Virginia, the Rise of a New Space Coast

In Virginia, the Rise of a New Space Coast

AP (July 30, 2014) Every summer, tourists make the pilgrimage to Chincoteague Island, Va. to see wild ponies cross the Assateague Channel. But, it's the rockets sending to supplies to the International Space Station that are making this a year-round destination. (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Russia Saves Gecko Sex Satellite, Media Has Some Fun With It

Russia Saves Gecko Sex Satellite, Media Has Some Fun With It

Newsy (July 27, 2014) The satellite is back under ground control after a tense few days, but with a gecko sex experiment on board, the media just couldn't help themselves. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
NASA EDGE: OCO-2 Launch

NASA EDGE: OCO-2 Launch

NASA (July 25, 2014) NASA EDGE webcasts live from Vandenberg AFB for the launch of the Oribiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO) launch. Video provided by NASA
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins