Standing on the Surface

With the HiRISE images we show on Planet Four, you’re peering down at the Martian surface from above, seeing the fans and blotches that we want you to you mark.  What would something like the image below  look like from the ground if you were standing on the thawing carbon dioxide ice sheet during the Southern spring?


Well, if the geysers were actively lofting carbon dioxide gas and dust and dirt from below the ice cap up onto the surface and into the Martian air, you’d probably see something like the artist’s conception below.

Image credit; Arizona State University/Ron Miller

Artist’s rendition of geysers on the South Pole of Mars – Image credit; Arizona State University/Ron Miller

How high are the plumes? Current estimates suggest that the geysers and material it lofts stay relatively close to the ground going probably no higher than about 50-100m into the air according to previous estimates based on fan length and simple deposition models. Though more likely, the geysers achieve smaller heights than that most of the time. To try and directly measure the geyser plume heights, stereo imaging where Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter pointed at the same spot twice at different look angles has been used. The two resulting HiRISE images are then combined to give height information in much the same way our brains combine the  images obtained from our eyes, each viewing at a slightly different angle and position than the other, to get depth perception. HiRISE would have been able to see the geyser plumes above the ground in the combined stereo pairs,  if the majority achieved heights of 50-100 m, but no image to date yet has caught a detection of a plume. So that suggests that the geysers may not reach these maximum heights but instead only go up to maybe 5-10m off the ground.

Your clicks may be able to help constrain better the height of the geyser plumes. With your classifications, we will have the largest sample of fan lengths and directions and blotch radii ever measured on the Martian South Pole. With the fan lengths from your markings,  a measure of the terrain’s slope, and an assumption for the particle size of the Martian dirt/dust being entrained by the escaping carbon dioxide gas, you can estimate the maximum height needed to loft the material for it to fall at a given distance from the geyser for a range of wind speeds.

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