Through the Mars Student Imaging Project, students in Dr. Barbie Buckner’s physics honors class and two of her chemistry classes were able to select a section of Mars to target for a satellite orbiting Mars to take pictures. The project is a collaboration between NASA and Arizona State University’s Mars Education program.
Tuesday was the first time anyone, other than the NASA data archivist who processed the image, had seen the image.
Physics student Hannah Rogers said it was “cool” to be the part of the first 15 people to see the image.
“It makes me feel kind of special,” Storm Carter said.
Students were given access to an electronic image of Mars’ surface outlining where the satellite would orbit. Each student picked an area they wanted to have a more detailed image of.
“Then we voted on the one we liked the best,” physics student Caleb Goodwin said.
Students were given a link to a picture outlining Areas to target for a THEMIS (thermal emission imaging system) were based on the each classes research question.
The physics students wanted to study fractures on Mars’ surface.
Rotation of the planets created some interesting deadlines for the students during the program. As Mars orbited the sun, the sun came in between Earth and Mars, making communication with the satellite impossible for few weeks. One of the chemistry class’ image has black lines where the image could not be taken because of this.
“It just lets them know how realistic it is,” Buckner said. “It’s science. You don’t get perfect pictures.”
Buckner said the classes had to hurry to finish the application for where they wanted to target and have the process finished before communication to the satellite became impossible. The project gives many students their first taste of working with scientific research. The classes will complete a report based on their hypothesis and their THEMIS image. This report will then be published in the NASA database. The images will also be available for the public to view online six months from now on the THEMIS website as V50044002, V50061002 and V50038003.
Buckner offered the same opportunity in her classes last semester.
The physics class found that what they had thought was a fracture in the planets surface was actually a ridge.
“We targeted this area because we thought perchance there might be some fractures in there,” Buckner said. “What we found out is that there’s not ... it’s not like it’s success or failure, it’s just, ‘OK that’s not there.’”
Buckner said the project gives her students the opportunity to experience the challenges scientists face in doing research.