California middle school students using the camera on NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter have found lava tubes with one pit that appears to be a skylight to a cave.
They went looking for lava tubes on Mars — and found what may be a hole in the roof of a Martian cave.
The 16 students in Dennis Mitchell’s 7th-grade science class at Evergreen Middle School in Cottonwood, California, chose to study lava tubes, a common volcanic feature on Earth and Mars. It was their class project for the Mars Student Imaging Program (MSIP), a component of ASU’s Mars Education Program, which is run out of the Mars Space Flight Facility on the Tempe campus.
The imaging program involves upper elementary to college students in Mars research by having them develop a geological question about Mars to answer. Then the students actually command a Mars-orbiting camera to take an image to answer their question. Since MSIP began in 2004, more than 50,000 students have participated to varying extents.
“The students developed a research project focused on finding the most common locations of lava tubes on Mars,” says Mitchell. “Do they occur most often near the summit of a volcano, on its flanks, or the plains surrounding it?”
To answer the question, the students examined more than 200 images of Mars taken with the Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS), an instrument on NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter. Philip Christensen, a Regents’ Professor of geological sciences in the School of Earth and Space Exploration, is the instrument’s designer and principal investigator. The students chose for their targeted THEMIS image (plus a secondary backup image) areas on Pavonis Mons volcano that had yet to be photographed by THEMIS at highest resolution (18 meters, or 59 feet, per pixel)…
[continues at PhysOrg.com]