Archive | October 2013

4 Million and Beyond


We have just reached a huge milestone – 4 million classifications! What does that mean? To make a HiRISE image manageable, the Zooniverse team cut the images up into sub-images, called cutouts. Fans and blotches are identified in each cutout, and when a cutout has been viewed 100 times it is retired.

Four million… I am still amazed at the investment of your time that this represents. I am humbled that you all have invested your free time in this project, a bit of Mars science that delights and fascinates us by its alien nature. I hope that you have enjoyed doing this, enjoyed the pleasure of looking at this unearthly terrain.

On Mars today it is autumn in the southern hemisphere. The CO2 (carbon dioxide) is freezing and/or snowing onto the surface. Over the winter it will anneal into a sheet of translucent slab ice. In a little less than one earth year it will be spring in the southern hemisphere of Mars and we will start our 5th year of observations. Fans will pop out from under the ice like Martian crocuses. Will they be in the same place? Will the winds be stronger or weaker? Will we see any permanent changes in the surface or just the ephemeral seasonal activity?

With your continued efforts we’ll be able to detect long-term trends. As soon as our current collection of cutouts has been analyzed we will add the images from our 4th year of observations. Then we’ll add the 5th year.

Four million… You are awesome!

Candy Hansen
Planet Four Principal Investigator

World Space Week

We’ll be starting our live chat shortly. The video link is below. If you have questions for us, tweet us @planet_four.

World Space Week Live Chat

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Today marks the start of World Space Week which runs from  October 4-10. World Space Week is a yearly event to  celebrate and promote the exploration of our solar system and beyond. The week is coordinated by the United Nations with the support of the World Space Week Association (WSWA). The start date (October 4, 1957) honors the anniversary of the launch of the world’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1. The end date (October 10, 1967) is to commemorate the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies.

This year’s theme is ‘Exploring Mars, Discovering Earth.”   Here at Planet Four, with your help, we are exploring an alien process. The carbon dioxide geysers that appear at the Martian South Pole in Southern Spring and Summer have no Earthly counterpart. The prevailing winds blow the material uplifted by these geysers into dark fans and blotches seen from orbit on the ice sheet. For the past 4 Martian years,  Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and the HiRISE camera have been imaging the South Pole to explore the seasonal change. With your help marking the blotches and fans in the HiRISE images, we can tally the numbers of fans and blotches, measure their directions and sizes, and compare  how these properties change over time in a single year as well as from year to year. With these measurements, we can better understand the processes that form the geysers and impact the Martian climate itself. By studying Mars’ climate we can better understand the similarities and differences between the sister planets.

To celebrate World Space Week, the Planet Four team is hosting a live chat on Wednesday October 9th  6pm EDT/3pm PDT/11pm BST. We’ll be joined by Planet Four Science Team Members: K.-Michael Aye, Ganna (Anya) Portyankina,  and Meg Schwamb . We’ll also be joined by special guests Kristin Block  and Christian Schaller. Christian is a HiRISE Ground Data System Software Developer, and Kristin is a targeting specialist for the HiRISE camera. We’ll be discussing more about the Planet Four project, how HiRISE works, and the process from commanding HiRISE to the reduced images that you see on Planet Four.

We hope you’ll join us. We’ll be posting the video live here on the blog. If you have questions for the science team or for our special guests Kristin and Christian, you can post them  in the comments or tweet us at @planet_four. In the meantime, why not celebrate World Space Week by exploring Mars at