Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Landscape Art of Mars


Alexandra Innanen is an Undergraduate Researcher working at PVL for the summer. Along with MSc Giang Nguyen, they've been scouring the Northern Polar Cap of Mars in images, looking at the fine details and trying to deconvolve what role the atmosphere plays in their formation. Along the way, Alexandra has seen more than just thousands of images of dust and ice and had the opportunity (below) to talk a little bit about the aesthetic appreciation of the landscape that one can obtain from orbit. Today she shares with you her top five selections!

By Alexandra Innanen


The North Pole of Mars is a pretty cool place – pun absolutely intended. This summer I’ve joined Giang in looking for patterns in the Martian ice cap, something he talked about in a previous post. I have looked through a truly astronomical number of HiRISE images, nearly 1000 at this point. While many of them do showcase those beautiful patterns we’re looking for (I have been known to punch the air at a particularly uniform set of dunes), a number are what I lovingly refer to as ‘garbage’. Some of these are just flat nothingness, with no distinguishing features to recommend it. Some are more visually interesting, but without any sense or uniformity. These are fairly useless in terms of patterns, but can be fun to look at, and sometimes have neat stories behind them.

I have a folder on my laptop called “Space Stuff” which I could easily rename “Nifty Pictures of Mars” at this point. It’s full of HiRISE images that I looked at and went “well, there’s no pattern there but boy is that cool!” I’m going to show off my top five images here.

Okay, the one at the top of this article is probably the coolest. Should I have ended with it? Is everyone going to leave now? Anyway, this is an avalanche at the edge of the layered deposits of the north pole, which fall off in steep cliffs (reminding me a bit of the Scarborough Bluffs near where I live). You can see the layering in the escarpment, and the edge of the ice in the lower left corner. Here’s some perspective: the dust cloud you can see is about 200 m across. That’s nearly two football fields long. This led me to another image taken in 2008 showing FOUR avalanches, which readers are encouraged to peruse at their leisure.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Frozen Moons


This week, Keagan Lee, an Undergraduate Research Assistant working at PVL for the summer reports on some independent reading he has been doing on a fascinating solar system object: Europa. The image above is a well-known mosaic acquired by the Galileo Orbiter, which you can find on the Planetary Photojournal here.

By Keagan Lee

We like to think of Earth being in the “Goldilocks Zone” -- an area in a star system that is not too cold and not too hot so that liquid water can exist on its surface -- as if this is the ideal location in the solar system. We call Earth the “Blue Planet” because it has so much water. Ostensibly, yes. In our neighbourhood, we are the largest host of water; any water that made its way to Mercury (outside of the permanently shadowed polar traps) or Venus would be boiled off instantly, and it is too cold for water to exist in liquid form on Mars, at least currently. But water is much more likely to exist further out in the solar system where the effects of solar radiation are lessened because of the distance from the Sun and, as a consequence, is found in the form of ice. Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter, which is less than 1% the mass of Earth, is estimated to have more than twice the volume of water than Earth!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

My Summer Internship

As part of the TEPS program, MSc Candidate Elisabeth Smith has spent her summer working at local space engineering firm MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates, better known to us as MDA. She relates her experiences here.

By Elisabeth Smith

This past May, I started a part-time internship with engineering company MacDonald, Dettwiler & and Associates (or, MDA for short) in Brampton, Ontario – located not too far from York University. MDA was founded in 1969 by John S. MacDonald and Werner Dettwiler, and is likely best known for their development of communications and robotics systems. Perhaps their best-known product is the Canadarm, the robotic arm present on both the International Space Station and the Space Shuttles that is used to grab and move payloads from different spacecraft, especially for the assembly of the ISS.  It also has cameras on it that allows for the inspection of spacecraft.  After the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster in 2003, this became a very important step in future manned space missions. 


Being able to work for such a fantastic company with such an incredible position in the space industry was a very exciting prospect indeed. I would be helping develop a robotic arm that will be used in aircraft manufacturing – a very good fit for me, given my prior internship experience with business jet manufacturer Gulfstream Aerospace. I have always dreamed of working in the space industry, and being at MDA is a great way to achieve that goal. I am also very interested in robotics, and being able to combine my interests in space and robotics was perfect. 



Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Putting the Sky in Contrast


 
This image shows a test rig that Eric is using to examine the feasibility of LCD contrast enhancement of images. Such a system might be useful for future spacecraft which often must acquire scientific photos under challenging lighting conditions.

by Eric Shear

Several months ago, I agreed to take on a hands-on project for my masters’ thesis. I had been doing planetary mission design and it seemed like a nice change to do something experimental that might end up in future spacecraft cameras.

I picked up from where a former summer undergraduate had left off. She, with John's help, had built and tested an imager apparatus with a liquid crystal display (LCD) in front of a digital camera. The whole assembly had additional optics to sharpen the image and was bolted on a black aluminum bread-board (see the image above).

The goal was to make a sky imager that could selectively block out the sun in order to increase contrast and dynamic range in the image, allowing otherwise hard to see details to be easily picked out. An obvious application would be on Mars, where there are high altitude cirrus clouds that would be hard to see in bright daylight. The same thing could be accomplished with a physical shade, but it would be heavier and less flexible.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Exploration of Eboracum Planitia


This week, PVL Postdoc Christina Smith reflects on the youth outreach activity we completed in late may as part of our Ministry of Research, Innovation and Science Early Career Researcher Award. Both we and our guests had a great time and it's never too early to start thinking about next year! Image taken from: https://spaceplace.nasa.gov/mars-curiosity/en/ .

By Christina Smith

On May 27th, as per Brittney's blogpost, we at the Planetary Volatile Laboratory held an analog mission day for upper high school and undergraduate students. Missions like this, aimed primarily at education and outreach as opposed to technological proof-of-concepts, simultaneously give students a taste of what being part of a science operations team for a real-life rover mission is like as well as being fun for those involved. I had never participated in a rover analog mission, but when I was in high school in the UK, I had the chance to be part of a “Voyage to Mars," where we took the place of a crew traveling to Mars and I still remember it vividly (and fondly) to this day – especially the part where the oxygen tank sprung a leak and yours truly was in charge of life support for the mission... I hoped that the students coming to participate would enjoy their time on their first mission as much as I did on mine.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Analog Rover Missions: More Than Just Acting Out Your Childhood Dreams

 
PVL Undergraduate Student Brittney Cooper (right) driving the MESR Rover (left) in the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) Mars Yard following the end of a 2 week long analog mission put on by the Centre for Planetary Science and Exploration (CPSX) at Western, in conjunction with CSA, in 2014.   This weekend, students from the Toronto area will get their own opportunity to participate in a model or 'analogue' space mission.

By Brittney Cooper

      In just under a week, PVL plans to host its first analog rover mission on May 27th. It’s a one-day event for upper year high-school students, and I will be the acting “rover”. Don’t laugh, this is not my first analog mission but it is however my first one acting in the role of a robot. While each mission has its own unique goals and desired outcomes, the overarching reason for conducting this type of exercise lies in education, training and outreach.
      Acting on a real-life mission is a unique experience, and it is not easy to know what to expect based upon the experiences you’ve had in previous jobs or in other areas of your life. Analog missions serve as a great tool to train and provide examples of the operation processes, hierarchy and protocol. You get the opportunity to understand how important science decisions are made and rationalized against data and power constraints of your rover or spacecraft. It’s a unique opportunity to gain insight on how hundreds of people are able to work together to design a mission from the beginning. This includes formulating the science outcomes and payloads, and then actually acting out the structured long-term and tactical planning that is carried out regularly, to achieve those outcomes. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

Public outreach reminds scientists of the bigger picture

PhD Student Casey Moore prepares to give an hour-long public presentation at a meeting of the Toronto-Center Royal Astronomical Society (RASC). He is now the third member of the lab to do one of these talks in this venue!

by Casey Moore

A few months ago I was asked to give a public lecture to an audience of amateur astronomers – noting that they would probably enjoy hearing about my work with the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL). I agreed – hesitantly, as I have never given such a talk. The event went off without a hitch and was a nice introduction to giving a talk to the broader community where not everyone is a specialist in planetary science.

For those interested, a brief summary of what I discussed can be found at: http://rascto.ca/content/speakers-night-speaker-announced-2 , as well as a rather unflattering outdated photograph of myself.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

One Mile Down, 93 Million to Go

 One of our summer undergraduates in the lab, Alex Séguin, pictured above, (in the image he provided himself!) is this week's designated blogger for PVL. One of our strengths is that we have trainees from all levels working together in the lab.

By Alexandre Séguin

I have done it. I, Alexandre Séguin, have officially completed my first week of research as an undergraduate student here at the Planetary Volatiles Laboratory (PVL).  After such a new and exciting experience, some reflection is in order.

    There are many stories, myths, and legends surrounding this type of work and they shrouded my expectations in uncertainty and confusion. On Monday morning, I walked into York's science building painfully earlier than necessary not knowing how my day would unfold, unsure of the daily implications of a research position... yet more ready than ever to try it. After a calming coffee, the time came to get to work.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

My Intern Experience at MDA

Over the past few months, one of our PhD students, Jake Kloos, has been doing an internship with one of Canada's best known and largest space companies, MDA, as part of his fellowship with the TEPS program. In this post, he talks about his experiences.

By Jake Kloos

Over the past 3 months, I have been interning at a robotics company called MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates, better known by their acronym MDA.This opportunity came about through my participation in the Technologies for Exo/planetary Science (TEPS) program, a program in which I have been a member since its inception in August of 2016. TEPS partners with various aerospace companies in Canada (namely ABB Bomem, COM DEV and MDA), and as such, TEPS trainees have a chance to apply for a 6 month internship at one of these companies, enabling students to get experience of a different sort from that offered in academia. As I wrap up the first half of my internship, I thought I would share a few thoughts on my experience thus far, and give some insight into the work that I've been doing helping to develop and test cameras for the International Space Station (ISS) at MDA.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

LPSC: A Play-by-Play

In this post, Jasmeer presents his LPSC diary.
Above:
The PVL contingent at LPSC this year, taken just outside the conference hotel.

by Jasmeer Sangha


Day 0
Today is the unofficial start to my first conference: the 48th LPSC just outside Houston, Texas. I, along with five other members of PVL, have made this  trip together. Travelling here from Toronto was smooth and uneventful. On arrival, the group decided to register ourselves and pick up our name tags. Finger foods were provided and it was a good opportunity to see some familiar faces before the ensuing presentations. It was particularly interesting to compare how we had all advanced in our research from different branches of the same general field. I could not help but notice our supervisors doing the same. Initially, I did not think the cost-benefit of this conference was that substantial, but I can already see how this collection of experts in one location can really improve interconnectedness of our small corner in the science community.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

In the shadow of lunar waters

A map from McGovern, J. A., et al. (2012), Mapping and characterization of non-polar permanent shadows on the lunar surface, Icarus, 223, 566 – 581, doi: 10.1016/j.icarus.2012.10.018 showing the permanently shadowed regions of the lunar south (in red) from a polar perspective. Jasmeer has been expanding on PVL's work in this area, adding in additional cold traps for our exospheric model and collaborating with researchers in Hawaii. His preliminary results are being presented as a poster here in Houston this week.

By Jasmeer Sangha

As you may have guessed from the posts preceding this one, I along with most of PVL am attending LPSC. This seems like as good a time as any to introduce my project which will be there in poster form. My project has grown and evolved since I last mentioned it on this blog, titled ‘The Waiting Game’. My current project is aimed to understand why the lunar poles ice abundances look as they do today. Observations have shown that water ice signatures are found near the lunar poles. However, unlike Earth, the local maximas of these ice signatures do not occur at the rotational poles. In order to obtain a full understanding of the processes on the lunar surface, my results and interpretations of those results will be built off of the groundwork done by three different people.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Hunting features on Mars Northern Polar Cap

There's nothing like a good morphological problem, especially in a condensable terrain (as in the HiRISE image above). While I've been vacationing on Pluto, Giang has been investigating polar cap surface textures on Mars. He presents his results, thus far, this week here at LPSC and is hoping to gain insight on the patterns he sees in conversation with other martian geomorphologists. Make sure to drop by his poster for an interesting discussion!

By T. Giang Nguyen

As the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC) creeps up on my calendar, I grow more and more anxious to show off work on my most recent and still ongoing project. I have been tasked with analyzing the surface of Mars Northern Polar Cap hoping to find any trends or pattern present on the cap.
By finding any patterns embedded on the surface of Mars, I anticipate that examining these surface features may give insights into the inner workings of the Martian atmosphere. For example, if I happen to find features that resembles dunes, investigating that may allow me to infer various properties of the wind such as its direction or prevalence. The northern polar cap is interesting because of the ice, either carbon dioxide or water, that is deposited onto the surface which allows for interesting surface features and atmospheric conditions that created the features.

Estimating the Altitude of Martian Clouds at the Mars Science Laboratory Landing Site

Our second LPSC installment continues the focus on martian clouds, but this time, instead of looking at them from orbit, we examine them from the surface. The animated gif above shows a view from Curiosity. I, for one, find these animations quite relaxing. Over now to Charissa:

By Charissa Campbell


Clouds have been observed on Mars from the Curiosity rover's current location. This is interesting because it makes Mars seem more like another Earth and makes one wonder if this could possibly be our future home. However, as everyone knows, not all clouds are the same and have a variety of morphologies (shapes) and altitudes. Since Mars does not have a very thick atmosphere, in contrast to the Earth, the clouds are typically cirrus clouds which are the thin, high altitude clouds that are very wispy looking. One reason we want to study these clouds is to better understand the Martian climate.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Discerning the Details from the Big Picture: Determining the Geometry of Ice-Crystals in Martian Clouds Through Analysis of Orbiter Data


PVL is headed to Houston! Today nine of our group (!!) arrive at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC) in The Woodlands, Texas. For many it will be their first international conference (and for others their first conference, period!). I remember my first LPSC ('04 - if you are counting) well and hope everyone has as much fun and learns as much as I did. To kick things off, here's undergraduate Brittney Cooper. She has provided a MARCI Composite Image of Mars, (Image: NASA JPL) reproduced above, to add some visual interest and context - enjoy, and come visit us in the poster sessions and in our talks!


By Brittney Cooper


This week will be my first time attending the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC) just outside of Houston, Texas. I’m very excited to have the opportunity to not only go to what is known as the largest planetary science conference in the world, but to also be able to present a poster on my research.
            For about a year now, I’ve been working on project analyzing images taken by the Mars Colour Imager (better known as MARCI). MARCI is a camera fixed to the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) satellite, which as you may have probably gathered, orbits Mars. MRO reached Mars in 2006, and began its Primary Science Phase (PSP) in November of 2006, for about 2 Earth years.
The specific images that I’m looking at were taken during this phase, when MARCI was locked in a Sun-synchronous 3am-3pm orbit. This type of orbit is named as such because it’s a polar orbit in which MARCI sees all of MARS at essentially the same local solar time (LST), with MRO crossing Mars’ equator at an LST of 3 pm (or in other words, when the Sun is at a 45 degree angle from what it would be at noon). MRO also crosses Mars’ equator at 3am on what would be the dark side of Mars at that time, but of course MARCI does not image that part of the orbit.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Ultra-Violet, Ultra-Conference

A false colour image of Mars as imaged by the OSIRIS instrument in 2007. In this image the UV channel has been enhanced, which brings out the atmospheric cloud. Our research program here at PVL often leads us into ultra-violet territory, as Dr. Christina Smith details below!
(Image Credit:
ESA & MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/RSSD/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA)

by Dr. Christina Smith

Last year I attended the 47th Lunar and Planetary Sciences Conference (LPSC) in Texas for the first time. It was a very different conference to those I had previously attended. It is an enormous conference, around 1700 people attend each year, and covers many different facets of planetary sciences from dust and grains, comets and asteroids, moons, minor and major planets, and everything in-between. I really enjoy the variety of science that gets presented at this conference. In the morning you could be attending a series of talks about the Martian atmosphere and then in the afternoon you could be listening to talks about the giant planets' moons or about the surface of Pluto! It's impossible to get to see everything you'd like to see because there are 4 different sessions held simultaneously at most points of the conference, but by jumping in and out of the sessions you can get to most things!

This year I will be attending again, and I will be presenting a scientific poster of my work. Presenting your work to the community is an important part of scientific research, both for work that is in-progress and work that is completed and published. For work in the latter category, presenting your research allows you to publicize your work and get it "out there" in the community, which can only ever be a good thing. In the former case, presenting in-progress research allows you to get feedback from the community on the work you're doing at a stage where it can influence the direction that you take it in. For example, if you've encountered an issue with your analysis, if you've found something usual or you're looking for opinions or advice, presenting your work, especially in poster-format, is a great way of getting feedback, advice, having discussions and networking with other experts in the field.



Tuesday, February 21, 2017

My first conference


As we approach conference season, our new recruits at PVL are getting their first taste of what it is like to present your work in front of the scientific community and to interact with labs working on disparate problems. Look for more posts in this vein and details about what we'll be discussing in our nine abstracts at the upcoming 2017 Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston, Texas in March. The image above is taken from the poster session at the American Geophysical Union's fall meeting, the largest conference on the Planetary Calendar.

By T. Giang Nguyen


As my third term rolls around as a graduate student, I’ve grown rather cozy of the little office where I generally spend most of my time. Aside from a summer short-course at Western University, I have not strayed far from York University since the fall term started. You can get pretty comfortable relying on daily routines but once in a while, it’s healthy to mix it up a bit. There had been discussions between the different events that we can attend and the group is heading to Houston, Texas for the 48th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC) in late March. Excitement and anxiety kicks in as this would be the first time that I would participate in a conference and it’s outside of Canada. Although this winter has not been as unforgiving as previous winters, I do enjoy the thought of escaping the ice and snow.

It is all about safety!

Dr. Abdelkrim Toumi has been reviewing our safety procedures in the lab as we work our planetary simulation chamber up for its first research use. This is something we take very seriously at PVL.

by: Dr. Abdelkrim Toumi


If you are working as a chemist, there are many potential dangers you can face. It is of your responsibility to be aware of the procedures that must be followed for working in safety. Different kinds of dangers exist in a laboratory such as chemical, physical, biological or radiological and each of them has its own safety procedures. During my research as a postdoctoral fellow here in the Planetary Volatiles Laboratory, we are working on a camera that would be able to detect water in some specific polar regions on the Moon. I have to deal with special environment, instruments and chemicals so I have to be very careful when I want to perform an experiment. Different safety procedures must be followed but it is not as easy as it sounds. In this post, you will find a non-exhaustive list of procedures that must be taken during my work.

Surfing the Rings: Using Small Spacecraft to Explore Saturn’s Rings




 
MIT's ion micro-thruster, (developed by the Space Propulsion Laboratory - Photo: M. Scott Brauer) is a technological development which has contributed to MSc student Eric Shear's conception of what a small satellite fleet might accomplish at Saturn. Find out more, below!

By Eric Shear
 
Over the last several months, I have been working on a CubeSat mission proposal to Saturn’s rings as part of my master’s thesis, now called “Saturn Ice Ring Exploration Network” or SIREN for short. I wrote about the science rationale in my blog post “The Ring Paradox.” The first draft should be completed by the end of this month, and I’d like to use this blog to reflect on my experience developing SIREN.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Importance of Public Outreach for the Younger Generation






  A photo of my siblings and I during the holidays where I gave a talk at their school. This was during my sister’s grade 6 class where they are learning about space. Hailey is 10 here while Arden is 8.

 By Charissa Campbell

One good thing about being a scientist is not only trying to learn about how the world works but being a good role model for the younger generation to encourage them to study science as well. This can be done by taking part in public outreach or, as in my case, encouraging your younger siblings to always be interested in science. I could do both of those things due to the significant gap in the age between my siblings and I. I took part in a public outreach program with a local science center teaching kids about astronomy in an observatory. Nothing was more satisfying than seeing little kids say “wow” or just to see their eyes bright up when I would show them Saturn or even just the moon.