by Jim Nintzel
The Christian Science Monitor reports on the HiWish program run by Alfred McEwen and the HiRISE team at the UA Lunar and Planetary Lab:
Scientists with NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter yesterday released the craft's first images of the Martian surface taken at the behest of everyday folks with a keen interest in the red planet.
It's an aspect of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter mission scientists started in January. It's called HiWish.
So far, only about 1 percent of the Martian surface has gotten the Ansel Adams treatment from the spacecraft's high-resolution camera. From its orbit, which ranges from 200 to 400 kilometers (125 to 250 miles) above the planet, HiRISE can spot objects as small as 1 meter across on the surface.
The HiRISE team has its ever-evolving science agenda, to be sure. But "we appreciate fresh thinking outside the box," notes Alfred McEwen, the lead scientist for HiRISE. Input from the public prompts his team to "look for things we may not have chosen otherwise."
A description of the above image by HiRISE team member Lazslo Kestay:
This image covers the northern edge of the largest volcano in the solar system, Olympus Mons. The margin
of Olympus Mons is defined by a massive, tall cliff. At this location, it is nearly 7 kilometers (23,000 ft) tall. The cliff exposes the guts of the volcano, revealing interbedded hard and soft layers. The hard layers are lava and the soft layers may be dust (from large dust storms) or volcanic ash.
This HiRISE image also shows a large tongue of material that has flowed over the giant cliff. While superficially similar to lava flows, this flow is actually a landslide. Most scientists think the the cliffs also formed by landslides, just much bigger ones. All this collapse is driven by the weight of the huge volcano exceeding the strength of the rocks of which it is composed.