One of the ways that planetary scientists try to understand the origin and evolution of landforms on other planets is by studying similar kinds of landforms or "analogs" here on the Earth. For the past few days I've been working with a group of colleagues doing just that--specifically, studying dunes in the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in order to try to better understand the nature of sand dunes on Mars.
A majority of the people who work in planetary geology are usually associated with one or maybe two missions, doing all their research on the results from one instrument on one mission. But there are a few people whose expertise cuts across many space missions, and an even smaller number of people who seem to work on almost everything. Randy Kirk is one of those people.
The mantra of Mars exploration is "follow the water," and my research is no exception. Lately, I have been looking closely at the the Meridiani region, searching for evidence of water-formed minerals near some of the potential landing sites for the upcoming Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission.
Opportunity is now following a rather leisurely autumn schedule, according to the latest update on the mission website. Some of the work Opportunity is doing involves staring skyward, looking for patterns in the clouds that pass overhead at this time of year. One of the guys at unmannedspaceflight.com has put together some nifty animations of the wispy cloud patterns.