Geo016 - Exploration of Mars

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Geo016 / Exploration of Mars / (M) 3:00-5:20 / Lincoln Field 105 / Prof. James Head

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Geoffrey Stetson (03/10/04)

Geo 5 was an awesome class. It was also great that it took only one class period to complete. It was very poignant information, but might have been better suited to be explained at the beginning of the semester. It was very good background information that would have been great to know before discussing a lot of the things we have done so far. I have been kind of ahead of the game because I took beginning astronomy last semester and we spent a class period going over each planet, although we did not cover the geology to the depth that we delved yesterday.

I have found the search for water to be the most interesting topic of investigation. Most evidence points to the previous existence of water on the surface of Mars. The deep channels, the frozen ice shapes under the dirt and soil, and the smooth northern lowlands. It would have been an amazing sight to see the entire northern lowlands flooded by water. To see water gushing out of springs in the southern highlands and just meandering through the many deep channels out into the vast sea. I envision a period of extreme cold; maybe an ice age in which the entire globe was covered in ice. Atmospheric disturbances related to the obliquity could have changed the temperature drastically. Or maybe intense volcanic activity may have done the melting. But this melting created great surges of water that welled up and streamed into the lowlands. Surges great enough to carve something like the valles marineris (I have no idea if this is the right spelling, or name, I am talking about the really big canyon). And to carve something like the valles marineris, it would have to be a sustained flow of water, over many, many years. An awesome sight to think about when you consider the dust ball that is the mars we have known all these years.

But if there was all this water, where did it all go? Your options are up or down, sublime or go under the ground. Well, I think it did both. In my astronomy class, we talked about a theory called the runaway icehouse effect. This theory is a cycle, which is started by the dropping of temperatures, and the precipitation of water out of the sky. This precipitation drops the temperature causing more precipitation, and so on and so on. The water also brings CO 2 out of the atmosphere and deposits it in the rocks. All this makes the atmosphere less and less insulating, making the planet colder and colder, causing more and more precipitation, and there you have cycle of the runaway icehouse effect. So according to this, all the water precipitated out into the soil, which is possible but then you would expect to find ice more places on the surface. If the ice sublimed, then you would find more in the atmosphere, unless water was light enough to escape, but I don't think it is. Something I have thought about is, are the ice caps made of water ice? Because I know that part of them are CO 2 . This has never been mentioned in class and I am interested to know, because if they are water ice, why have we not gone there already. It is water with the possibility of life residing in it. Maybe I don't know what I am talking about, but it seems like a good place to start.

The formation of the volcanoes is another very interesting topic of discussion. I believe two factors were the cause of their formation and both were mentioned in class: the lack of tectonic plates and lesser gravity. The lack of tectonic plates provides hot spots, or holes in the surface where lava can well up through the surface. With little other options for pressure in the core to be released, the amount of lava that comes through the hot spots is enormous. These hot spots account for all of the volcanoes having shield shapes. The fraction of gravity that is on mars made it easier for the volcanoes to grow to their immense size.

The Bliny night was a very good experience. First of all it was great to be back in a house. It gave me a very homey feeling that I greatly appreciated. The food was…cultural. It was interesting to try something different.

As for the talks with the Russians, I did not speak very much with Dr. Khrushchev. He always had a large crowd of students around him and they were mostly talking comparative politics, which is a field I am not so interested in. I spent most of my time getting more information out of Dr. Basilesky. He explained what was the downfall to each lunar rover, and how they landed the rovers. He told me that the way that we landed the mars rover was thought up over 40 years ago, which was very surprising to me.

Lastly, I would like to extend gratitude to the Heads for their hospitality for having us eat at their house. It provided us with a great chance to make the class a more intimate experience. And thanks to the chefs for all the hard work.





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