"Travel, Travel, Travel!"

Peter Thomas - February 16, 1997
Research Scientist
Cornell University, Ithaca, New York

    February 16 -26, 1997

Most scientists working on planetary spacecraft are involved with more than one mission, so our attention, and travel, frequently are divided many ways. This journal is written just after returning from the latest trip.

February 16: Fly to Phoenix, Arizona for a Galileo workshop on the satellites of Jupiter, Callisto and Europa, at the Geology Department of Arizona State University. After arrival, review materials I am supposed to present for Paul Helfenstien, who is unable to attend (another typical activity: sharing presentations to cut down on travel), on whether morning frost can be detected on Callisto.

February 17: Meeting on Callisto; large photos recently sent back by Galileo are spread around the room, and the 20 or so attendees look closely at them during and between presentations on specific science questions, and on outlines for further study and joint writing of articles describing the results. Callisto doesn't look the way we thought it would from Voyager data, and much of the time is spent trying to come up with ideas on why it doesn't. After the workshop, a dinner is held at the host's (Ronald Greeley) house. Science decreases in talk at dinner, but doesn't go away.

February 18: Europa workshop. More people show up for this one as Europa has attracted much attention for the possibility of an ocean under its ice cover. We don't solve the problem, but try to outline how best to use remaining orbits of Galileo to take the most diagnostic data.

February 19: With Galileo meetings over, and a Mars polar science workshop in Houston several days off, I stop by friends at the University of Colorado at Boulder. It is supposed to be vacation, but we spend sometime every day talking about Mars: my hosts, Steve Lee and Todd Clancy, are on the Mars Surveyor Orbiter '98 camera team (as am I), and they also are active in Space Telescope observations of Mars. Steve has long studied the changes in surface contrasts on Mars caused by dust storms, and he has recent HST pictures that show dust storms in unusual places (the north pole in spring time). We also manage to see comet Hale-Bopp early the morning of the 22nd.

February 23: Fly to Houston for the Mars Polar Science workshop at the Lunar and Planetary Institute. This is a meeting to get the planetary scientists studying Mars' polar regions together with people who specialize in studying terrestrial glaciers, especially Greenland and Antarctica. Mars' poles both have very distinctive layered deposits, and seasonal deposition of carbon dioxide and water frost (1/4th the whole atmosphere freezes out at the poles each winter). While there is the strong suspicion that these record cycles of climate driven by changes in Mars' orbit and rotation, we have little information on what they are made of, let alone what really controls their formation. The hope is the terrestrial record of going in and out of ice ages in recent geologic time might help figure out the Mars layers, or vice versa.

The workshop is very informal, and includes some specific presentations of particular science investigations, but also a lot of discussion of how best to have Mars Global Surveyor instruments, and future missions, address some of the key questions: What are the polar deposits made of? Are they accumulating now or are they eroding? How does one try to detect layers at depth on Mars as can be done in Antarctica by radar and seismology. What are the resources available for refueling lander missions on Mars?

In getting ready for Mars Global Surveyor such meetings help focus on some of the work to be done, and on the likelihood of changing our whole investigation strategy after we see some of the data, which will include higher resolution pictures than ever before, and types of data never taken at Mars: laser measured topography and mineralogic data from infrared thermal emissions.

One of the fun aspects of this meeting, and most related ones, is the mix of people who have been doing science for decades with those just starting out professionally, as well as the wide range of specialties and points of view.

Feb 26: Attend first part of last day of meeting, then race to catch plane home; flight home includes revising a manuscript on the Martian satellites. Editing papers on airplanes is another typical travel activity. Make it home ok, then check in at office for accumulated work. Back to the usual schedule!

Back to Field Journals Menu Peter Thomas' BIOgraphy Travel, Travel, Travel!    1