The HiRISE team met up this summer in Whitefish, Montana. In between meetings, we were also able to take several geologic field trips and hikes. Glacier National Park has many cool (haha) glacial features, of course, and we also learned about some interesting sedimentology that occurred in the ancient geologic past. The patterns we saw in the sedimentary rocks are similar to those discovered by the Mars Opportunity Rover – cross-bedding and festooned ripples that form when sand is laid down under a body of water. The shape and direction of the ripples can tell you how much water was present, how fast it was flowing, and whether it was a river, a lake, or an ocean. These are important questions we’d like to answer about the history of water on Mars.
The park also has wonderful examples of glacial geology. HiRISE has taken images of many features thought to be related to glaciers, so it’s important to understand the terrestrial analogs that lead scientists to think these are evidence of flowing ice on Mars. For example, we hiked along a moraine composed of jumbled rocks the Grinnell Glacier left behind as it flowed downhill. In addition to the remains of the (rapidly disappearing) glacier itself, we also saw typical glacial erosional structures such as U-shaped valleys, hanging valleys, and cirques. For a HiRISE image of cirque-like features, see PSP_005730_1405.
On one of our field trips, we were accompanied by reporter Michael Jamison of The Missoulian. This story was on the front page of the paper the following day:
I thought the story was really good – a quirky (but so are we!) description of why we would want to stare at the rocks in such a magnificent setting, and their relevance to our mission to Mars. We all thought it was funny when he called Alfred McEwen, our Principle Investigator, a “Marsman”!
HiRISE Team in Glacier National Park, in front of a classic U-shaped valley carved by glacial erosion.