Flood Plains on Earth and Mars
[230.6 MM 72]
We return to Highway 17 and continue south. For the next few miles we can see the expanse of the flood plain. Boulders of all sizes dot the landscape in the sagebrush covered fields.
The view of Mars from one foot above the ground in this NASA/JPL Sojourner image (left) shows that Mars rocks are similar to the rocks we see on the flood plain. The large rock in the upper right is called "Flattop". Note the sharp edges on the larger rocks and smoother edges on the smaller rocks. Rounded edges indicate that a rock has bounced along in fast flowing water for long enough to chip and break off tiny pieces.
There are two current orbiting missions to Mars that you might want to learn more about, the Mars Global Surveyor and the Mars Odyssey programs. In January, 2004, two Mars Exploration Rovers landed on the red planet and have added to our understanding of Mars.
Mars Global Surveyor
In November 1996, NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory began America's return to Mars after a 20-year absence by launching the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) spacecraft. Since then Surveyor has returned an unprecedented amount of data regarding Mars' surface features, atmosphere, and magnetic properties. The mapping phase of the mission began in mid-March 1999. During mapping operations, the spacecraft circles Mars once every 118 minutes at an average altitude of 378 kilometers (235 miles).
2001 Mars Odyssey is an orbiter carrying science experiments designed to make global observations of Mars to improve our understanding of the planet's climate and geologic history, including the search for water and evidence of life-sustaining environments. On April 7, 2001, the 2001 Mars Odyssey was launched on a Delta II launch vehicle from Cape Canaveral, Florida. After arriving in orbit in October, 2001, the spacecraft began its science mapping orbit (for 917 Earth days) and will serve as a communications relay for U.S. and international landers arriving at Mars in 2003/2004.
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The Sojourner Rover is 65 centimeters (2 feet) long, 48 centimeters (1.5 feet) wide and 30 centimeters (1 foot) tall. On Earth it weighed 10.5 kilograms (23 pounds) but on Mars weighed only 4 kilograms (8.8 pounds) due to the difference in the size of the two planets. The robot carried a device called an Alpha Proton X-ray Spectrometer used to test soil and rock samples to determine what minerals were present. Click here to learn more about the Sojourner Rover or continue on to the next page.
Here are some basic terms used in the tour. Find more geology terms in the Glossary.
- Volcanic igneous rock related to granite.
- Ares Vallis
- Area of Mars where the Mars Pathfinder and Sojourner Rover landed.
- Volcanic rock caused by partial melting of the Earth's crust.
- Coarse-grained igneous rock usually without obvious bands or markings.
- Igneous Rock
- Rock that has been melted, cooled and become solid.
Kids' Cosmos… Expanding Minds Beyond the Limits of the Universe
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