Category: Astronomy

Martian Mammoth

According to Elton John, “Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids. In fact it’s cold as hell …”

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has taken a picture of what they say is an elephant, but looks more like a young mammoth to me. My artistic input was merely to give the original black and white photo a reddish tint for atmosphere.

It’s the low gravity whut lets ’em grow so big.

Elephant on Mars Sculpted by Lava Flow Staff
09 April 2012

NASA photo of a surface formation on Mars resembling an elephant.

Martian Mammoth

This observation highlights Martian terrain that looks like an elephant. Actually, this image covers the margin of a lava flow in Elysium Planitia, the youngest flood-lava province on Mars. Flood lavas cover extensive areas, and were once thought to be emplaced extremely rapidly, like a flood of water. Image released April 4, 2012.
CREDIT: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

The dried flood of lava over the surface of Mars has created the spitting image of the eye and trunk of an elephant.

The curve of the animal’s forehead and the dent of an ear also appear in a new photo taken by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

“This is a good example of the phenomena ‘pareidolia,’ where we see things (such as animals) that aren’t really there,” University of Arizona planetary geologist Alfred McEwen wrote in an update posted on the university’s HiRISE website.

The Mars elephant illusion photo shows a region of the Red Planet called the Elysium Planitia, which is the youngest flood-lava province on Mars.

Scientists aren’t sure if the lava flows on Mars were deposited quickly, or over a longer time period, as is the case on Earth, where most lava floods were put in place over years to decades.

“This is probably true for much of the lava on Mars as well,” McEwen wrote. “An elephant can walk away from the slowly advancing flow front. However, there is also evidence for much more rapidly flowing lava on Mars, a true flood of lava. In this instance, maybe this elephant couldn’t run away fast enough.”

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been circling the Red Planet since 2006, was launched in 2005. The orbiter, currently in an extended phase of its mission, has transmitted more data to Earth than all other interplanetary missions combined, NASA officials have said.

A couple of other interesting photos from Mars:

Earth seen from Mars

Planet Earth as seen from the Martian surface

Earth seen from Mars

The Earth is the small dot near the center of the photograph.

Sunrise on Mars

Sunrise as seen from the surface of Mars.

Sunrise on Mars

And now for something completely different.

I don’t know if you’ve seen them; those pictures taken by NASA’s Cassini probe of the geysers on Saturn’s sixth largest moon Eneceladus. If not, look them up on the Internet.

Enceladus is one of several moons of the outer planets which have water oceans under their surface ice. The scientific community believes life may exist in Enceladus’ ocean; it contains salts and organic compounds.

Anyway, I’ve got some friends who have been there (They are not exactly from around here); they brought me some photos – here’s one:

Artist's conception of life on Saturn's moon Enceladus

Under the Ice of Enceladus

Click on image for full-size view.

Lot’s of living things there though my friends tell me the terms “plant” and “animal” don’t exactly work to describe them.

Though it is heated by gravitational stressing and radioactive decay the water is rather frigid – that’s my excuse for including it on this blog.

Sometimes the simplest fractals work really well.

The Long Dark

Last night was the winter solstice; the high point (or low point) of the long dark. I made this quickie image to celebrate the fact that today we had two seconds more light than yesterday.

How do those chickadees – little, tiny fluff balls that they are – survive the winter?

Cick on image for full-size view.

winter solstice 2011

The shortest night of the year.


Something different.

There was a total eclipse of the moon on December 21, 2010. Here in Anchorage we were lucky to have clear skies and not too cold, just a bit below zero.

Click on image for full-size view.

total eclipse 21 Dec 2010

Just Before Totality