Citizen scientists help map ridge networks on Mars

Example of a polygonal ridge network showing approximately 10-meter thick, intersecting ridges enclosing irregular 100–200 meter-sided polygons. Credit: NASA/JPL/MSSS/Caltech Murray Lab/Esri

Over the last two decades, scientists have discovered unusual ridge networks on Mars using images from spacecraft orbiting the Red Planet. How and why the ridges formed and what clues they may provide about the history of Mars has remained unknown.

A team of scientists, led by Aditya Khuller of Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration and Laura Kerber of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, set out to learn more about these by mapping a large area of Mars with the help of thousands of .

Their findings, which have been recently published in Icarus, show that the ridges on Mars may hold fossilized records of ancient groundwater flowing through them.

How the ridge networks were formed on Mars has remained a mystery ever since they were found from orbit. Scientists have determined that there are three stages that were involved to create the ridges, including polygonal fracture formation, fracture filling and finally erosion, which revealed the ridge networks.

To learn more about these ridges, the team combined data from the NASA Mars Odyssey orbiter’s THEMIS camera and the Mars Reconnaissance orbiter’s CTX and HiRISE instruments. Then, they deployed their citizen scientist project using the platform Zooniverse.

Map of polygonal ridge networks (black dots) identified in mapping area (dashed black outline), covering approximately a fifth of Mars’ total surface area. The Mars Perseverance rover landing site is shown in purple. Background: Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter Elevation Map. Credit: NASA/JPL/GSFC.

Nearly 14,000 citizen scientists from around the world joined in the search for the ridge networks on Mars, focusing on an area around Jezero Crater, where NASA’s Perseverance rover landed last February. Ultimately, with the help of the citizen scientists, the team was able to map the distribution of 952 polygonal ridge networks in an area that measures about a fifth of Mars’ total surface area.

“Citizen scientists played an integral role in this research because these features are essentially patterns at the surface, so almost anyone with a computer and internet can help identify these patterns using images of Mars,” Khuller said.

Most of the ridge networks (91%, or 864 out of 952) that were analyzed are located in ancient, eroded terrain that is approximately 4 billion years old. During this time period, Mars is believed to have been warmer and wetter, which might be related to how these ridges form.

Previous research in this area has shown that those ridges which were not covered with layers of dust showed spectral signatures of clays. Since clays form from weathering in the presence of water, this suggested to the research team that the ridges may have been formed by groundwater. While the abundant surface dust in these regions makes it difficult to check whether the newly mapped ridge networks by Khuller and Kerber’s team also contain clays, their similarities in shape and dimension suggest that they might form from similar groundwater processes.

This discovery helps scientists “trace” the footprints of groundwater running through the ancient Martian surface and determine where it was suitable, during that time 4 billion years ago, for to be flowing near the surface.

“We hope to eventually map the entire planet with the help of citizen scientists,” Khuller said. “If we are lucky, the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover might be able to confirm these findings, but the nearest set of ridges is a few kilometers away, so they might only be visited on a potential extended mission.”



More information:
Aditya R. Khuller et al, Irregular polygonal ridge networks in ancient Noachian terrain on Mars, Icarus (2021). DOI: 10.1016/j.icarus.2021.114833

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Citizen scientists help map ridge networks on Mars (2022, April 6)
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Hexbyte Glen Cove Meet the spotted lanternfly, the bug health officials are begging you to kill on sight thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Meet the spotted lanternfly, the bug health officials are begging you to kill on sight

Hexbyte Glen Cove

Walthery, CC BY-SA 4.0

Meet the spotted lanternfly, the bug health officials are begging you to kill on sight

Whether you choose to kill insects or not, there is one bug across the northeastern United States health officials want you to take care of immediately: the spotted lanternfly.

Though it may seem like a colorful moth worthy of an Instagram post, it’s actually an that can wreak havoc on trees, plants and other landscapes, resulting in millions of dollars in damages.

The spotted lanternfly originates from China, and George Hamilton, department chair of entomology at Rutgers University, believes they landed in the U.S. via a crate coming from the Asian country. The invasive insects—which actually don’t fly but rather are leafhoppers—were first spotted in Pennsylvania less than 10 years ago. Now, they can be seen throughout the northeast and mid-Atlantic, from the five boroughs in New York City to parts of Indiana.

They may have spread so easily because they are hard to notice. From hiding on cars and packages, they’ve become such a problem that New Jersey and nearby areas have issued quarantine orders, asking people to inspect their vehicles before traveling. In Pennsylvania, there are 34 counties currently under quarantine.

“They’re very good hitchhikers,” Hamilton told USA TODAY. “Most people don’t even know they’ve got them until the adult form comes out.”

The good news about the insects is that they can’t harm humans or pets. However, they cause massive damage to plants and are known to feed on over 70 different types of trees and plants.

But the damage doesn’t end there. As Amy Korman, a horticulture educator for Penn State Extension, says, “What goes in must come out.”

The spotted lanternflies secrete a sticky material known as honeydew, which is very high in sugar. It is a substrate for mold, and when it gets on plants, it prevents them from photosynthesizing which then leads to the plants dying. The mold these lanternflies leave can end up in backyards and decks and can attract numerous other bugs.

“It seems like it’s such a fragile insect. And yet it’s been so successful in taking over our landscapes,” Korman said. “It’s sort of like the Pandora’s box of problems.”

They’ve destroyed vineyards throughout Pennsylvania, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. A January 2020 study done by the Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences found that if the species isn’t contained, it could result in at least a $324 million hit to the state’s economy and the loss of around 2,800 jobs. A estimates a $554 million economic loss and almost 5,000 jobs lost.

The study also found current spotted lanternfly-related damage is estimated to be $50.1 million per year with a loss of 484 jobs.

“This insect has the potential to be such a significant economic burden,” Korman said. “We’re still working on ways to manage this insect. We haven’t cracked the nut and how to really manage populations of this insect very well.”

The states impacted by the spotted lanternfly have a variety of ways to handle the population, but they all have the same goal.

“First thing you should do is kill it,” Hamilton said.

If you don’t feel up to killing a spotted lanternfly, Hamilton added the next best thing to do is to take a picture of it and report it to your state’s department of agriculture. The state of Ohio has a form residents can fill out.

Scrapping and destroying the eggs also helps control the population.

“The only good ones are dead ones,” Korman said.

There are numerous ways to kill them, including the use of pesticides or simply crushing them. Extreme heat or cold also does the trick as well.

Korman added that she’s heard of many different ways people have handled the insects, which has ranged from detergents, alcohol and even kerosene.

“Sometimes you have to laugh. I”s like you really came up with that concoction and you thought it was gonna work?” she said. “‘I’m always scratching my head over with the next great home remedy will be.”



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Meet the spotted lantern

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