I know what you are all thinking, yes it has been a while since I've updated my blog, but with good reasons.
A lot has happened since I returned from LPSC in March. Advanced mineralogy course work began to pile up, I was on HiRISE cycle 273, finishing off image interpretation mapping for the planetary surface processes field school, space day poster presentation, and GAC MAC 2017. The good news is I have completed so much in the past two and half months I have a lot to talk about in this blog, more than usual. Let's start from the beginning.
Not long after returning from LPSC I immediately began HiRISE which involved working on the mission two a day, once in the morning and afternoon, and for two full weekends. I got to work closely with Dr Livio Tornabene (Planetary Science), PhD candidate Zach Morse (Planetary Science), and PhD student Jon Kissi (Electrical Engineering).
Our objective was to prioritize targeting of HiRISE images on Mars (not actually take the images ourselves, that is all conducted in Arizona), by observing MOLA, CRISM, OMEGA, previous HiRISE, and MARCI datasets. We looked over the list of targets suggested by team members, fellow academics, and the public. Team members got priority over everyone else but we still had to pick the best out of their selections. I'm not going to bore you with the procedure but I can give you a glimpse of an image I took in an empty orbit.
The image above shows a simulated true-colour infrared HiRISE image of the impact ejection lines from Lonar Crater in Margaritifer Terra. This is one of three images I selected myself on cycle 273.
During HiRISE I was also in Dr Roberta Flemming's graduate Advanced Mineralogy and Crystallography course, one of the most challenging courses I've taken in my student life. The course taught me how to properly analyze powder XRD data, use Rietveld Refinement, and how important the physical structure of minerals are in earth and planetary science. Rietveld Refinement involves refining the unit cell parameters and structures of minerals, comparing measured XRD data to calculated results. One assignment objective was to perform Rietveld on impact samples from Haughton impact basin. We had to determine the size and strain of the phases and their modal abundance. My sample contained dolomite and calcite, dolomite being the dominant mineral phase, 95%. Results showed dolomite strain was greater than calcite and dolomite was in fact coarser. If anyone is interested I have the results on a memory stick...
Along with the mineralogy course I started the second assignment for the planetary surface processes field school, image interpretation. I created a geological map using only two remote sensing datasets: aerial imagery of the field location, and multispectral LANDSAT dataset with RGB. For curiosity, the red band represented clays, carbonates and/or sulphates, the blue band ferric iron, and the green band is vegetation. The assignment was to show how geologists can map the surfaces of planets without the benefits of field work. Remote sensing data is able to provide a large scale overview of planet surfaces but what it still cannot fully achieve is picking out the fine details in outcrops (E.g. cross-bedding and layering).
I was going to put my geological map on here but I wasn't sure if my friends and classmates would want to see it since we all submitted our work. However, if some of you do want to, again it is on the memory stick mentioned previously.
The field course was, without a doubt, an incredible experience! Field work, planetary science, mapping, and camping, come on what's not to love about it! The diverse geology in SW United States shows how we can use structures on Earth as analogs for other terrestrial planets; explosive volcanism, lava tubes, impact cratering, geyser springs, salt diapirs, paleochannels, and canyons! The field course taught me how important planetary field analog study is needed for planetary exploration, as we can only gather so much information from remote sensing data. Now before anyone goes, "why are you hating on remote sensing so much?", quite the opposite actually. Remote sensing methods and developments over the decades has slowly been uncovering secrets about planets and moons in our solar system, not visible to the naked eye. I'm only stating that it still has its limits, the petrography in my research shows this limitation. Coupling it with planetary field analog study then we can uncover a wealth of information about other terrestrial planets.
I know Josh, and I'd imagine Elise and Jeff shared pictures from the field course. Sadly, I missed the previous meeting with you guys as I was presenting my research at GAC MAC 2017 in Kingston. Really beautiful campus, and their department has a museum....I think we need one of our own!
Now for a research update. After GAC MAC, I started to think about what I need to do before returning to the field. I still have more samples to prepare for analysis, which has begun as we speak. I listed the samples to be cut for thin sections, XRF, and for both. A total of 14 samples: 2 for thin sections, 2 for XRF, and 10 for both thin section and XRF. The remaining samples are listed as low priority. They will be prepared during the summer but the 14 represent locations in the field site that have not been analyzed yet. Idaho State University samples sent by Dr Shannon Kobs Nawotniak coordinates have been highlighted on the field map and thin section samples will be prepared in the near future (during this summer!). I have the map on the memory stick if anyone is interested to see where their samples were taken from. My plan for the summer is to extend my sampling in Serrate Flow (walk further NE away from the Devil's Orchard/Serrate Flow contact), traverse across Devil's Orchard (from the Great Rift to the end of the flow), revisit Highway Flow (detailed field notes and additional samples), and continue sampling of North Crater (especially at the locations where petrography changes). The map below shows a general outline of my field plan when I return to Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve in August 2017.
The start of the transect of Devil's Orchard on the map doesn't start at the Great Rift because the terrain before the white X is covered in vegetation, ash, and cinder cones. The lava flow only shows great exposure starting from the parking lot (the round circle close to the bottom left white X on the traverse). Serrate Flow will not be an easy task but it is achievable. The distance to Serrate is short, only 3-4 km but the terrain reduces your speed to at least 1 km/hr. On top of that, carrying the samples out of the field will further reduce speed and mobility, I will not rush out of the field after getting the samples because I'll run the risk of getting an ankle, leg or head injury. North Crater is marked down for 1-2 days but if everything goes according to plan, and perhaps wake up a little bit early, I could finish everything there in a day. Highway Flow with out a doubt will only require a day. It doesn't take long to reach the lava flow and it doesn't cover a large area unlike the rest of the lava flows. The only problem is it has some of the most treacherous surfaces, sharp and loose rocks, which is why it is nicknames MORDOR!!! If you don't believe me, look at the images below.
I guess all I can say now is I'm making great progress in my research and courses, considering I was panicking when I got my mineralogy results back. Next stop, the plan, the summer holidays, thesis writing, and thinking about the future!