July 16, 2010
The National Air and Space Museum is holding its annual Mars Day today. Visitors can learn about current and upcoming Mars missions from NASA scientists, compete in a Red Planet Quiz Show and view a Martian meteorite. (Check out Around the Mall’s Five Reasons Why You Need to be at Mars Day.)
For those of you who can’t make it to the museum today, you can still enjoy the wonder of Mars with WorldWide Telescope. NASA teamed up with Microsoft to provide a true-color map of the red planet, a 3-D rendering of the planet’s lowest and highest points that users can explore on their computers and tours of the planet led by NASA scientists. (Sadly, though, this is all currently only accessible to Windows users, leaving Mac people like me out of the loop.)
To celebrate this Mars mania, I found the image above from the Mars Odyssey spacecraft of the Noctis Labyrinthus region, the Labyrinth of Night. This false-color image is a mosaic of pictures taken during the day and night with the spacecraft’s Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS). Temperature differences tell scientists about the nature of the materials that make up the surface:
The heat-seeking eye of THEMIS can spot the coarser and rockier portions of a landslide’s debris by their residual warmth, shown in redder tints in the image. Late at night, rocky debris on Mars is still radiating heat absorbed during daytime, just as asphalt pavement does on Earth. At the same time of night, however, patches of ground mantled in dust (shown in bluer tints) have long since cooled off.
Scientists think that the canyons and troughs in this region of Mars originally formed as a result of volcanic activity. More recent avalanches of debris formed the pattern of dark streaks on the canyon walls.
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