Thursday, December 07, 2006

Possible Source of Martian Outflow Identified by Researchers

Ashland MA USA: Researchers at a Massachusetts laboratory reported today that they have spotted a possible source of the recent Martian outflow that has excited scientists and opened up the possibility of finding life on Mars. According to the researchers, the possible source is a sinkhole located North of outflow location. NASA images were used to identify and compare time lapse changes on the Red Planet's surface. "The direction of the outflow corresponds almost exactly with a change on the other side of the crater's ridge" remarked laboratory researchers. "This may be the first time we have been able to observe a sudden change in Martian geology and a susequent release of liquid water. It could mean that there is a lot of underground water on Mars" said Robert J Crowley, who works at the laboratory.

The new sinkhole can be seen to the North of the crater's rim, and appears as a roughly circular feature that appears to have darkened and become larger and deeper when compared to earlier images of the same location.

You might recognize these recent NASA images of the surface of Mars, the left image shot in 1999, the right image more recently. The obvious white feature is presumed to be evidence of a flowing liquid, perhaps water.

What many people might not appreciate is that this is a stereo pair that can be viewed in crosseyed stereo, a technique that is easy to learn and use to view full dimension stereo images without special glasses. In a nutshell: Sit with you head level to the two images at a comfortable reading distance. Slowly and gently cross your eyes until two images combine to form a third, fuzzy image in the center. Relax! In a minute or less the fuzzy image will fuse into one incredible stereo image.

Give it a try. You can do it.

This is one great stereo image and it has a surprise in it for those who view it in stereo.

Here is a hint. Notice the location, orientation and elevation of the flow relative to the steep ridge. Imagine the origin of the flow. Now look at the other side of the ridge, in stereo.


Of course there is a direct analogue to stereo recording here. The human brain, plus eyes and/or ears, is great at detecting differences in position, and differences in time. Once you get a good look at what I am talking about you will recognize how sensitive this comparative ability of our binocular visual sensor systems really is. The stereo pair above contains brightness (amplitude) spatial, (position) and time domain information - in this case time over several years. Your pair of brain-controlled ears are equally sensitive to very fine nuances of loudness, time (phase) and position.

It appears that in addition to a new "river" there may be a new sinkhole on Mars. The surprise (for those who tried and succeeded in getting a good stereo view) is an apparent depression North of the ridge, directly in line with the origin of the newly observed flow marks on the surface. This is an exciting observation first reported here! (But sinkholes on Mars are well documented - see here)

And there is an interesting discussion group about Mars images here.

Early Theory of the Mars Sinkhole and River: I will hazard a guess that subsurface ice has melted at the North ridge, and the liquid found its way downhill through fissures or perhaps a sand bed below the ridge, and exited at the crater wall, forming the gully. If this is the case, there may be widespread subsurface ice which could be comprised of either carbon dioxide or water ice. I think that carbon dioxide is the more likely material since the average surface temperature on Mars is too low for water to remain liquid, however a South facing escarpment, as is the case here, exposed to generous sunshine, could be a relative hot spot. Maybe this is the best place to catch some rays on Mars!

It should be worthwhile to look for other sunken areas with similar temperature and geologic locations to se if there are any corresponding flow-like features radiating away from the sunken area.
Robert J Crowley



Zach said...

So I was having difficulty viewing stereo pairs. I clicked on the link and did some of the exercises. Surprisely they worked. I am in no way all the way there, but getting close.

Pablo Blanco said...

Global warming on Mars! Send Gore to investigate...

Anonymous said...

Fast forward to 2011: NASA is just announcing your discovery.

Bob Crowley said...

I think of it when I see an ice dam on the roof in Winter. The warmth of the Southern face may melt it just enough for the liquid to flow.

It is important to identify what that liquid is. Crucial in fact. It is our best spot to look for subterranean water on Mars.