Scientific Colloquium
April 5, 2017, 3:30 p.m.

"Volatiles and Ices in the Polar Regions of Mars - the future is LIDAR"

Dr. Adrian Brown will talk about his research into the icy volatiles of Mars and what we've been able to learn using a passive hyperspectral infrared spectrometer called "CRISM" on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Using this instrument, Brown and his team tracked the movement of water ice and the nighttime snowfall events that happen during the north polar cap summer.

Mars is a different place than Earth. There is water on Mars, more than the Moon, but lots less than on our own world. But the water on Mars is the same H2O we have here, and we should use it when we travel to Mars and set up the first human bases. “Living off the land” on Mars is going to be crucial, because we can’t hope to bring all the water we need. We’ll have to be water farmers. That’s why, just like farmers here on Earth need to think about how much water they use and where they’re getting it from, Martian farmers will need to know about the martian water cycle, how it operates seasonally, where the water comes from, and where it’s being stored now.

That’s what Dr. Brown's research is all about. He is doing the water work for the first Martians, remotely from the Red Planet in space and remotely from the first settlers in time. A series of 4 papers published by Brown and his team over the past 8 years have establishes the surface water cycle in the southern and northern polar caps during summer and spring. The winter is a lot more challenging, and no farmer or robot is going to want to be there.

In winter, the dry ice at the Martian poles freezes, and every exposed surface cools down to 148 K, or -190F. But during the summer, the polar caps thaw and occasionally get up to a balmy 200 K (-100 F). Water molecules only then start warming up and traveling around the cap. In a thinner atmosphere, with lower gravity, the snowpack is likely to be far different from Aspen or Vale. These differences from the Earth make the interpretation of remote sensing data from Mars extremely exciting and also challenging. Dr. Brown will talk about some of the mysterious curiosities of the Martian polar caps, and how we might break through the Martian ice with LIDAR in the future.

About the Speaker:

Dr. Adrian Brown is a planetary scientist working at the SETI Institute and NASA Goddard. His fields of research include Mars, astrobiology and remote sensing spectroscopy. His current research focuses on the analysis of data from the Mars instrument "CRISM" which is onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (Mister Oh). For the CRISM project, he is helping choose targets and analysing data from the North and South Poles of Mars. He is working with other researchers to study seasonal changes in the surface and atmosphere in the polar regions of Mars. The poles are the most dynamic regions on Mars and they may hold the history of past water on Mars.

He completed his PhD studies at the Australian Centre for Astrobiology. He is involved in the running of the Australian Space Prize, which is an annual prize for undergraduates who have completed an Honours thesis related to space in science or engineering. The winner each year travels to a NASA Center in the United States to take part in a 10-week summer program.  He also helps teach an online planetary science course at the Astronomy Department of Swinburne University in Melbourne, Australia.

                    Return to Schedule