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Once wet, warm, and possibly life-supporting, Mars is now a cold, surface-desiccated planet with possibly profound implications for the future of Earth. Los Alamos National Laboratory's "Water on Mars" project will conduct an interdisciplinary study of questions regarding the water content of Mars, its distribution, and its cyclic evolution over time, which we can model and thereby answer today. We will utilize unique, state-of-the-art computer models and algorithms developed at Los Alamos to model the transport of water below the Martian surface, model the neutron and gamma-ray transport through the Martian surface, and identify subtle features in imagery that are signatures of water and its evolution. The codes incorporate key input data from several experiments aboard the Mars Odyssey mission and data on CO2-clathrate structure and stability from experiments conducted at LANSCE to address these important questions.
Figure 1. The North and South Polar Caps of Mars as seen in Thermal and Epithermal Neutrons. Thermal (top) and epithermal (bottom) polar maps produced by the 2001 Mars Odyssey GRS/Neutron Spectrometer show neutrons above the south (left) and north (right) polar caps. Enhancements of the thermal fluxes at both caps show that the central portion of the north cap is covered by dry-ice frost because it is late winter. The residual polar cap at the south cap also is covered by a thick layer of dry ice even though it is late summer. The maps of epithermal neutrons show a high abundance of subsurface water ice near the surface south of about negative 60 degrees latitude and within a ring that almost completely surrounds the central portion of the north polar cap that is covered by a thick layer of dry-ice frost. A meridional lane extending southward from the mouth of Chasma Borealis is probably covered by a thin layer of dry ice frost at this time of year (late northern winter).
Figure 2. Left: Topographical map of Mars from the Mars Global Surveyor mission, looking down from the north pole. The blue region is believed to be an ocean basin reaching a depth of 5 km. Right: Artists conception of an ancient, water-rich Mars with a view from the equator. Olympus Mons, a dormant volcano on the left, reaches 29 km in altitude. (Courtesy NASA JPL)
Dr. Herbert O. Funsten
Center for Space Science and Exploration
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