Interview With Ken Edgett of Malin Space Science Systems
Aired June 10, 2003 - 15:44 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Satellite images of Mars are the next best thing to being there. Scientists have learned much about the Red Planet from some of these images.
Ken Edgett is a scientist with Malin Space Science Systems, the company behind some of the images -- well, some spectacular images from a spacecraft called the Mars Global Surveyor, which launched in November of 1996. These images are rewriting the books on Mars and have helped scientists where to land things like the Spirit Rover.
He joins us on the phone right now. Ken, can you hear me OK?
KEN EDGETT, MALIN SPACE SCIENCE SYSTEMS: Good afternoon, Miles.
O'BRIEN: All right. We wanted to go through -- you're joining us from your headquarters there in San Diego. We wanted to go through some --you've got more than 100,000 images so far. You're in an extended run. You've had a very successful mission, haven't you?
EDGETT: Yes, I can't believe it. This is such a great day for Mars exploration with the launch and two orbiters already at Mars, and we're just having a ball out here.
O'BRIEN: All right. Let's take a look at some pictures -- I'm hoping you can see CNN with me and some of the things that we're interested in looking at. Can you see CNN, by the way?
EDGETT: Oh, yes, I do. Yes.
O'BRIEN: All right. Let's talk about these lines, these sort of -- well, I guess you can -- this unscientific term would be squiggly lines. What do those tell you?
EDGETT: Those are layers.
EDGETT: Those are -- they're sort of like stair steps is what you're looking at. Yes, the way you're drawing them, you're kind of going up the steps. Those layers are deposited in a crater. Those are layered rock. And that rock is probably very, very ancient and maybe represents sediments deposited in a lake.
O'BRIEN: All right. Once again, this is the key. This would be a theme as we go through our discussions here. We're looking for clues for water. Water is the key here. What are we looking at here, Ken?
EDGETT: This is another crater. You're seeing the whole crater this time, as opposed to the other image, where you were just looking down into the crater. And you see all of these concentric things inside the crater, the sort of a bullseye in there. Those are also the expression of layers of sediment that were deposited in that crater. This crater was actually also completely filled and then buried and then exhumed after that. So the crater is -- the rock that used to cover has been stripped away. This crater also probably was a lake at one point.
O'BRIEN: All right. Now, what's interesting, as well in addition to this ancient evidence, which seems very clear that at one time Mars was wet and warm. The current meteorological conditions on Mars, it would put our weather forecasters to the test here, wouldn't it -- with these dust storms. Some of them have been known to actually envelop the entire planet. Tell us what we're seeing here.
EDGETT: This is a dust storm that occurred on Mars on June 1, just a few days ago.
O'BRIEN: All right. And that's....
O'BRIEN: To the right here is dust storm, right? And that's just the surface there...
EDGETT: All that wavy white stuff there, that's the dust storm there. And this just occurred a few weeks ago.
The dust storms on Mars, we're finding, are actually very predictable. You could predict, in some cases, a dust storm a year in advance. If you could do that with a hurricane, that would be fantastic on the Earth, wouldn't it?
O'BRIEN: It sure would, wouldn't it?
Now take a look at this. This looks like some kind of, you know, parimecium under a microscope or something. What are we looking at here?
EDGETT: Well, it's a Jackson Pollock painting, actually.
O'BRIEN: Just throw it at the canvas, right?
EDGETT: The distance across that picture, across the width is about two miles and all of those dark streaks you're looking at were created by dust devils...
EDGETT: ...going across the surface and sucking up dust as they go. O'BRIEN: Wow, interesting.
Let's look at the next image and as we talk about this -- this is spectacular. It almost has a three-dimensional effect. Give us a sense of scale here, if you could, Ken, from here to here, let's say. What would that be in distance?
EDGETT: Well, the distance across -- OK, there, that's about a mile.
EDGETT: Those red lines are about a mile. Those are gullies on the slope of a crater in the Southern Hemisphere. That's up towards the top. Those gullies, we believe, were carved by water in the recent past on Mars. Not like 100 years ago, but maybe a million years ago. Down at the bottom of the picture are sand dunes, which may still be active today in this environment.
O'BRIEN: All right. Bottom line in all of this, based on all these hundreds of thousands of images, you've seen some cases where you've seen almost what you believe to be direct evidence of perhaps water on the surface today on Mars. And this is one of those images, I believe, correct?
EDGETT: It depends which one you've got on the screen. I see one with tear-dropped islands, which is formed -- which are formed by floods.
EDGETT: It's a place called (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
EDGETT: This is actually an area we looked at for the MER rovers, the Spirit and Opportunity, but turned out to be a little too rough.
O'BRIEN: All right. So, fantastic images. Of course, there's nothing like being down there on the surface. I'm sure you agree with that, Ken. But keep those wonderful, wonderful images from Mars coming. Clearly, there's a good coffee table book in all of this.
Ken Edgett with Malin Space Science Systems, the folks who have the camera on the Mars Global Surveyor, thanks for being with us.
EDGETT: You bet. Thank you.
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