free debate

March 26, 2012

Rocks on Mars

Garden of the Gods
We know a lot about rocks, and the ways they react to wind, water, sunlight, heat, and other factors. Geologists can look at a strange rock formation, such as Colorado's Garden of the Gods, at tell you exactly what happened to create these odd structures. However, as with all science, there's always more to discover. The newest discovery is of a completely new kind of landform... on Mars.

This new kind of structure is called a periodic bedrock ridge. This sounds quite technical, but in reality, that is exactly what the structures look like: ridges in the bedrock at a regular (or periodic) distance from each other. In fact, it looks quite similar to sand dunes, at a first look. However, instead of being grains of sand blown into piles by the wind, they are tracks eroded by the wind into the bedrock. 

Periodic Bedrock Ridges
From Science Daily
David Montgomery, of the University of Washington, suggested that these features formed because the rock has bands of softer material within it, and that the erosion is of an unusual sort, that works perpendicular to the wind direction. The hypothesis is that the high speed winds on Mars are thrown into the air when they collide with a solid land formation, and that these periodic bedrock ridges form when the winds return to the surface. In order to visualize this, imagine driving a remote-control car. Jump it off a ramp, and onto a memory-foam type surface. The place where it impacts will have deeper tire tracks than anywhere else. That car is like the wind on Mars, and that impact point is where Montgomery and his team believe the ridges form.

This research is particularly interesting because there don't seem to be any analogs, to date, of this kind of feature on our own planet. On Earth, the presence of water means that very rarely will bedrock be eroded by wind alone. This difference means that we can understand not only Mars geology better, by utilizing these landforms to look at the beds in the Martian surface and figure out more about the geologic history of the planet, but also understand better how erosion works and parse out, here on Earth, the differences between different types of erosion, and the characteristics that separate one from another.

March 19, 2012

TED-Ed and Scientific Unknows

Sorry for the recent silence. This is a crazy semester for me but hopefully things will lighten up soon. Anyways, I was recently perusing the interwebs and was pointed to a new TED initiative by Ron Garan on Google+.

From the website, TED-Ed's goal is to
...Capture and amplify the voices of great educators around the world. We do this by pairing extraordinary educators with talented animators to produce a new library of curiosity-igniting videos. A new site, which will launch in early April 2012, will feature these new TED-Ed Originals as well as some powerful new learning tools.
I think this is a wonderful idea. TED has the connections to bring together great minds and create a wonderful product. I was going through the videos currently up and couldn't help but watch one focusing on unanswered questions. I highly recommend it as it mirrors some of my own thoughts on why these mysteries need to be shared. After all it's questions, not facts, that drive curiosity.

I am really excited to see what results this project produces. TED is currently looking for teachers and animators so if you think you would be a good fit, or know someone else who would be, put in their name. To close here is another TED-Ed video about the awesomeness of science by Mythbuster Adam Savage.