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Arizona Scientists Develop High-Res Mars Map

Mars crater
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Arizona State University
A high-resolution image of Gratteri Crater, 4.3 miles wide, shows how thermal inertia can reveal important details of an impact crater and its surroundings.

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Arizona Scientists Map Mars

Arizona Scientists Develop High-Res Mars Map

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Arizona State University

A high-resolution image of Gratteri Crater, 4.3 miles wide, shows how thermal inertia can reveal important details of an impact crater and its surroundings.

Arizona scientists have produced two different types of maps that take our understanding of Mars to a whole new level.

Researchers at Arizona State University and the U.S. Geological Survey Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff used more than 20,000 images to develop the highest resolution surface property map of Mars ever created. The images come from what’s called the Thermal Emission Imaging System.

“It’s actually two cameras in one,” said USGS research geophysicist Robin Fergason who developed the map. “It’s an infrared camera which is kind of like putting on your night vision goggles. It’s looking at the surface of Mars both in the daytime and at night but what you’re really seeing is surface temperature and not features. There’s also a visible camera, so a similar to what you’d look at with your own digital camera.”

The map helps geologists understand the surface properties of Mars. Is there bedrock exposed on the surface? Or sand or dust? Now scientists can answer those questions and get a better picture of the geologic history of the planet.

USGS

The new global geologic map of Mars is the most thorough representation of the red planet's surface. It provides a framework for continued investigation.

“Understanding the physical nature of any material you look at on another planet, even earth, is critical in understanding the processes that put those materials on the surface,” Fergason said.

And now she said anyone can access that information. Ken Tanaka said that wasn’t always the case. He’s been doing this research for 30 years and is the lead author of a different map of Mars. His map is a global map that uses images from four orbiting spacecraft.

“The future missions to Mars are interested in looking for places where there was water in ancient terrains and so the mapping helps to identify those locations,” Tanaka said.

Tanaka said both maps will help “illuminate key relationships in space and time, providing information to generate and test new hypotheses.”

Laurel Morales was a Fronteras Desk reporter in Flagstaff from 2011 to 2020.