A VIRTUAL FIELD EXPERIENCE ON MARS VIA EARTH ANALOG OUTCROPS AND GIGAPIXEL IMAGERY
Earth GigaPans are collected with a robotic mount that automatically acquires a grid of photos of a selected region programmed by identifying the upper left and lower right corners. A special camera is not needed; most digital cameras can be used with the robot. The camera is typically set to full zoom to maximize the detail in the panorama. Once completed, the final pan is assembled using the GigaStitch application and uploaded to the GigaPan website at www.gigapan.com for public viewing. Other large images (e.g. satellite images, spacecraft mosaics) can be added to the site via the GigaUpload app.
We selected outcrops in Connecticut that represent potential analogs for geological features observed on Mars, particularly those related to past fluvial and lacustrine systems. The Jurassic Portland Formation contains a conglomerate layer exposed in Durham that exhibits evidence of fluvial deposition along the Eastern Border Fault during rifting that would form the Hartford Basin. This is compared to the Hottah outcrop examined by MSL (near Yellowknife Bay in Gale Crater), which is a sandy conglomerate layer contains similarly rounded clasts also deposited by vigorous surface flow.
Field trips are key in understanding geology and its principles, so ultimately this project will serve as a virtual field trip to allow students to examine outcrops when travel to them is not possible (especially in planetary astronomy and geology courses). We plan to develop a field trip that brings students to local sites and has them compare these outcrops to panoramic images of Mars to identify the similarities and differences between the two planets.