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Space Science

(Paper by Lawrence Williams)

Welcome to our Team

We are looking forward to meeting you and working with you in Bristol. You will be working with two Bristol people during the week - Stuart Stansfield and Carsten Riedel - both of us work at the Centre for Environmental and Geophysical Flows of the University of Bristol Earth Sciences Department. You will also meet Professor Steve Sparks, FRS, our Centre Director, who is taking a close interest in your time with us. People working in our Centre in Bristol try to understand the behaviour of flow systems inside and outside volcanoes. Some people deal with the formation of glaciers.

Here is some information to give you a bit of idea what we're going to be doing, and how your investigations can make a real contribution to science.

The Space Science dimension comes because we will be studying volcanoes on the planet Mars. In this work we will be guided by videolink with Dr Joseph Kolecki at the NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) Glenn Research Centre in the USA who will also be very much part of our team. I must also mention Lawrence Williams, who will be working with us in Bristol and has a lot of experience in using videoconferencing between schools in Britain and Japan and has close personal links with NASA.

What will the Team be doing at Bristol?

A video conference with NASA in progress

During the week we are going to look at volcanoes on the surface of Mars and explore new ideas about the formation and structure of these volcanoes, by comparing them to equivalent volcanoes on planet earth. As indicated, during this week you will have the unique opportunity to speak to experts of NASA by using modern videoconferencing equipment, i.e. talking real-time to people from NASA in the USA.

What is so important about Mars?

There have been a lot of people already who have worked on photos from the surface of Mars. The study of the red planet dates back to early times and in the last hundred years it has evoked speculations on bizarre lifeforms and advanced civilizations.

Although this is now discredited, by looking at meteorites in the last few years the idea that some form of simple life may have existed on Mars cannot be ruled out entirely. So by comparing today's empty planet with Earth it might be possible to find out how life survived on Earth but not on Mars. One essential feature for life is the presence of water. Mars is a very dry planet. Today water ice occurs in the polar ice caps of Mars, but liquid water cannot exist because the planet is very cold. If there was once liquid water, and there is evidence for this, there must have been another heat source adding to the heat coming from the sun.

Students in mid video-conference with NASA

Remnants of this heat source are the big volcanoes on Mars' surface. One of these volcanoes, Olympus Mons in the so-called Tharsis area of Mars, is huge (26 km high) and is so big that the whole island of Hawaii, and even the underwater volcanoes around Hawaii, could easily fit into it. And Mauna Loa on Hawaii is already the biggest volcano on earth.

How and why could Olympus Mons grow so high and what could have led to its formation? How are the other volcanoes on Earth and on Mars related to Olympus Mons? How can we find out more about these Martian volcanoes? Mars can only be explored from satellites so far, by a technique we call remote sensing. And by finding out something about Mars' volcanoes we also learn something about how remote sensing can help us to understand volcanoes on earth Earth...

When you arrive

Once you have arrived in our department we will give you some background information and show you how to access photos from the Martian volcanoes on the internet from NASA. We will show you how to compare volcanoes on other planets with those volcanoes on Earth that we investigate in our Centre. You can check out all the new photos from the new Mars Global Surveyor and discuss what you want to do further - with us and with Joe Kolecki at NASA.

Since the data are relatively new you could well discover something which other people have not noticed before or come up with an explanation that nobody has thought of. This would be a really important contribution you could make to the study of our "red planet" and to the possibility of life at some stage on all terrestrial (earth-like) planets (Earth, Mars, Mercury and Venus).

Preparation

Before you arrive, you may want to look at a few websites that we will be studying in detail once you are here. Maybe you know something of the volcanoes of Hawaii or Japan, especially the big ones to compare with those on Mars. Any book, TV documentation or video about earth science will supply some relevant information. Refresh your knowledge and bring this information with you to Bristol or try to think how the volcanoes in the books or TV documentaries compare to pictures at:
http://ltpwww.gsfc.nasa.gov/tharsis/volcano.html
http://ltpwww.gsfc.nasa.gov/tharsis/ngs.html
http://ltpwww.gsfc.nasa.gov/tharsis/map_lab.html

There is an interesting book "The New Solar System" edited by J Kelly Beatty, Carolyn Collins Petersen and Andrew Chaikin (Sky Publishing Corporation and Cambridge University Press) 1999, 4th Edition (ISBN Number 0933346867) with a good chapter on Mars. It is a bit technical and do not go to a lot of trouble to get it, but if there is a library with it in, it is worth a read.

We look forward to welcoming you to the Japan 2001 Workshop in the very near future.