There are tantalizing indications emerging from the thousands of infrared
images taken so far by NASA’s Mars Odyssey spacecraft that Mars experienced
a series of environmental changes during active geological periods in its

“We knew from Mars Global Surveyor that Mars was layered, but these data
from Odyssey are the first direct evidence that the physical properties of
the layers are different. It’s evidence that the environment changed over
time as these layers were laid down,” said Dr. Philip Christensen, principal
investigator for Odyssey’s camera system and professor at Arizona State
University, Tempe. “The history of Mars is staring us in the face in these
different layers, and we’re still trying to figure it all out.”

“I expect that the primitive geologic maps of Mars that we have constructed
so far will all be redrawn based on Odyssey’s new information,” said Dr. R.
Stephen Saunders, Odyssey’s project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion
Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

A mosaic of daytime infrared images of the layered Terra Meridiani region
shows a complex geology with craters and eroded surfaces, exposing at least
four distinct layers of rock. Though the image does not include the infrared
“colors” of the landscape (showing surface mineral composition), it does map
the temperatures of the features, with surprising results.

“With these temperature data, Odyssey has already lived up to our
expectations, but Mars, in fact, has itself exceeded our expectations,” said
Christensen. “It would have been entirely possible for the rocks of Mars to
have been very similar and thus give us all the same temperatures, but Mars
has a more interesting story to tell and we have the data to tell it.”

The images can be seen at:

and .

Christensen is presenting his findings May 29 at the spring meeting of the
American Geophysical Union in Washington, D.C.

“When we look at these distinct layers we see that the temperatures are
very different, indicating that there are significant differences in the
physical properties of the rock layers,” Christensen said.

The differences in surface temperature could be caused by the fundamental
differences in either the size of the rock fragments in the layer, the
mineral composition or the density of the layers.

Odyssey’s imaging team is working on fully processing the infrared images, a
complex and difficult task. When finished, the data will help them test some
important theories about what causes the layers on Mars by examining the
mineral composition of the specific layers. Plausible explanations include a
history of volcanic activity depositing layers of lava and volcanic ash; a
history of different processes that created the layers through wind and
water; or a history of climate change that varied the nature of the
materials deposited.

Christensen theorizes that the layers are caused not by surface effects, but
by changes in the planet’s subsurface water table. The presence or absence
of water and the minerals carried in it can significantly affect how
sediment particles are cemented together. With no clear evidence for surface
water, precipitation or runoff, Christensen believes that changes in levels
of underground water percolating through layers of buried sediments could
account for differences in rock composition between layers. More complete
infrared data will help to confirm or disprove this and many other
hypotheses concerning Mars’ geology.

“Looking at craters, we’re seeing new distributions of rock on the surface
that are helping us understand events in martian geology, and we are getting
our first glimpses of ‘color’ infrared images, which will help us precisely
determine the composition of the Mars’ surface. This is just the beginning,”
Christensen said.

Additional information about the 2001 Mars Odyssey is available on the
Internet at: .

JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena,
manages the 2001 Mars Odyssey mission for NASA’s Office of Space Science in
Washington. Investigators at Arizona State University in Tempe, the
University of Arizona in Tucson and NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Houston,
operate the science instruments. Additional science partners are located at
the Russian Aviation and Space Agency and at Los Alamos National
Laboratories, New Mexico. The thermal emission imaging system was provided
by Arizona State University in collaboration with Raytheon Santa Barbara
Remote Sensing. Lockheed Martin Astronautics, Denver, is the prime
contractor for the project, and developed and built the orbiter. Mission
operations are conducted jointly from Lockheed Martin and from JPL.


05/29/02 MAH


NOTE TO EDITORS: Animation of a flight over Valles Marineris and infrared
images of regions of Terra Meridiani and Candor Chasma are available on NASA
TV today at noon, 3 p.m. 6 p.m. NTV is broadcast on GE-2, transponder 9C,
C-Band, located at 85 degrees West longitude. The frequency is 3880.0 MHz.
Polarization is vertical and audio is monaural at 6.8 MHz.