Archive | January 2018

One (Earth) Year of Planet Four: Ridges

Today we have a guest blog by JPL research scientist Laura Kerber,  our lead researcher on Planet Four: Ridges. Laura studies  physical volcanology, aeolian geomorphology, wind over complex surfaces, and the ancient Martian climate.

Dear Ridge Hunters,

Can you believe that it has been a year since we started to hunt for ridges??? We have accomplished a great deal in the space of a year! With 7,784 volunteers, we have made 135,976 classifications! We finished our first region (parts of Deuteronilus Mensae), second region (Protonilus Mensae) and third region (Nili Fossae)! We are now working on our fourth batch of images—from a new region in Meridiani Planum, closer to the currently operating Opportunity rover. Mapping our first three regions allowed us to understand the distribution of Nili-like ridges close to two of the Mars2020 rover candidate landing sites, and allowed us to see what sorts of geologic units were associated with the ridges. We found out that the ridge-bearing units are often buried units, and that polygonal ridges were almost never found in glacial terrain. There also wasn’t a strong correlation between craters and ridge networks. There was a strong correlation, however, between ridge units and ancient terrain from Mars’ oldest geological period, the Noachian. As its name suggests, the Noachian was a time when water was abundant on the surface of Mars. Our ridge discoveries suggest that the subsurface was also the site of extensive water-related processes. Since the subsurface would have also been protected from harmful UV rays, this watery environment could have been an interesting place to foster life.

Here is a map showing the ridges that were known before this project (green) and the enormous number of ridges in fine detail that we mapped throughout Nili Fossae (red):


But wait! There’s more! Intrepid ridge-hunter @bluemagi ventured outside of the Zooniverse-defined regions and is currently conducting a planet-wide search for more ridge-bearing regions. Here’s a map of the simply astonishing findings of @bluemagi across the rest of the planet (added in blue), which were transformed into an amazing .kmz file for Google Earth by @frognal! Check out their handiwork here and see if you agree with @bluemagi’s interpretations!


Thanks everyone, for a year full of amazing surprises in Planet Four: Ridges. Here’s to another year of exploring the planet Mars together!


5 Earth Years of Planet Four

Today we have a post by Dr. Candice (Candy) Hansen, principal investigator (PI) of Planet Four and Planet Four: Terrains. Dr. Hansen also serves as the Deputy Principal Investigator for HiRISE (the camera providing the images of spiders, fans, and blotches seen on the site). She is also a Co-Investigator on the Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrograph on the Cassini spacecraft that orbited around Saturn until the end of its mission last year. Additionally she is a  member of the science team for the Juno mission to Jupiter. Dr. Hansen is responsible for the development and operation of  JunoCam, an outreach camera that will involve the public in planning images of Jupiter.

Last week marked the 5th anniversary of Planet Four’s launch. Five years ago,  I was sitting in a meeting only partly paying attention.  I was focused on the brand new Planet Four website – it had just gone live and took off like a rocket.  I kept hitting refresh, enjoying each of the new introductions in the “Hello Everyone!” chat.

Now we have a community.  When I lurk (which I still love to do) I recognize the names – Pete J, wassock, Kitharode, angi60, p.titchin, ….  My heartfelt thanks go to Meg Schwamb for engaging with our citizen scientists on a regular basis!

Five years on you have measured fans and blotches in over 5 million HiRISE image cutouts.  We’ve applied statistical analysis and turned that into a catalog.  We can now query the catalog (where is the longest fan?  Which way is the wind blowing in Manhattan at the beginning of spring?)   We are very close to submitting our first paper describing the catalog with samples of potential results that can be pulled from it.  The second paper is already shaping up with comprehensive results for wind directions throughout spring – these results are the gold we were hoping for when we started this citizen science project.  The vision we had in the beginning is now coming true.

Right now we use models to understand Mars’ meteorology.  In order to test the models we need data – wind markers.  The atmospheric modeling scientists are very excited about seeing our results – results we wouldn’t have without your efforts!  Thank you as always for your generosity with your time!!