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Monday, August 19, 2002



Team to analyze
Mars data probe

Areas of underground ice are
among the discoveries by
the Mars Odyssey probe


By Helen Altonn
haltonn@starbulletin.com

Vast reservoirs of underground ice on the Red Planet and other exciting discoveries by Mars Odyssey will be reviewed in Honolulu this week by the team that developed the spacecraft's key instrument.

"We were really surprised at just how much ice was buried just inches beneath the surface," William Boynton, of the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Institute, said in an interview here.

Mars Odyssey was launched by NASA on April 7 last year and is operated by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. It carries a Gamma Ray Spectrometer -- three instruments in one -- designed to analyze the chemical composition of Mars' surface and detect water at shallow depths.

It looks for gamma rays or high-energy light coming from hydrogen less than three feet beneath the planet's surface.

Boynton leads the Gamma Ray Spectrometer team of about two dozen members, including Peter Englert, new University of Hawaii-Manoa chancellor; G. Jeffrey Taylor, with the UH Institute of Geophysics and Planetology; and Scott Anderson, who recently joined UH from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The group will meet tomorrow through Thursday at the UH Pacific Ocean Science & Technology building.

Boynton, a planetary scientist, and Englert, a nuclear chemist, were among original gamma ray scientists for the Mars Observer spacecraft, launched in September 1992 and lost in August 1993.

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"The sad thing is, the instrument was working beautifully up to that point," Boynton said.

"At any rate, it's nice that it finally got there and is sending us data. ... It's really a very rich data set which is very helpful and very important."

He said the team will discuss preliminary findings and explore future avenues for science and data processing.

Boynton was lead author, and Englert one of the co-authors, of a paper published in Science Magazine in July.

Dried river lakes, ancient shorelines and empty canyons on the planet's surface indicated it once had a large amount of water, but where it went was a mystery. Mars Odyssey solved that with data showing water frozen beneath the surface.

Taylor said the data will provide clues to the planet's formation, how the crust was formed and evolved with time as volcanism continued, and how dust formed on the surface, as well as other information.

It will also reveal the distribution of water, "which has implications for the possibility of life on Mars and for future human habitation," he said.

The Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology, headed by Klaus Keil, has a renowned group of scientists and students studying Mars and other planets, Taylor said. The group is doing a lot of research on meteorites and remote sensing.

Four new graduate students this year will be working on some aspects of Mars, he said. "There is going to be so much data, it requires an army of people to work on."

Boynton said, "Before too long, NASA is going to have a mission to Mars and bring samples back to study them in the lab." He said Hawaii is "very well positioned" to have a strong role in the investigations because of its planetary research program.

He said NASA plans twin Mars rovers in 2003 that "will be bigger, more robust and capable than Pathfinder (in 1997) and a better instrument."

Britain also is leading a European Beagle 2 project to land a spacecraft on Mars next year.

The Gamma Ray Spectrometer is a partnership between the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Lab, the Los Alamos National Laboratory and Russia's Space Research Institute.



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