Monday, June 21, 2010

New Cave Skylight Found on Pavonis Mons on Mars by 7th Graders

What could make the life of seventh grader more exciting and lead them more into the planetary sciences? The answer is the discovery of a cave on Mars! That's exactly what happened to 7th graders in California who were participating in the Mars Student Imaging Program at the Mars Space Flight Facility at Arizona State University. This program lets students pose a question and to use a Mars orbiter to take pictures of the surface in order to find the answer.

The students were from Evergreen Middle School in Cottonwood, California. They were able to commission a Mars Orbiting Camera to search for lava tubes in the area of Pavonis Mons, a volcano where another cave was found in 2007 by geologist Glen Cushing, who suggested that the openings (left; previously-discovered cave) were skylights or holes in lava tubes created after a part of the roof collapsed. He estimated the hole to be over 600 feet wide and nearly 400 feet deep.

The students wanted to determine the likely places lava tubes could be found on Mars. The photographs of their chosen location did indeed show tubes. The cave was a bonus that made the news. The pictures were taken by the Mars Odyssey orbiter with its Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) instrument. Dennis Mitchell, the teacher of the students, remarked that the program is one of the "greatest educational programs ever developed."

If you happen to have access to high-resolution photos of the surface of Mars, why don't you go over them? You may likely discover something new just like what these students did. You may not have access to the Mars Odyssey, but there's the chance that you will find something that's not noticed before.

NOTE: he images on the left relate to previous discoveries. The pictures are from NASA.

So you're wondering what lies inside the Martian caves, eh? Well, for now, they are forbidden places! Nevertheless, why not let your imagination on the subject loose with this Forbidden Planet, Robby the Robot model kit! Click here or on the image to order.

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