Planetary scientists in Flagstaff study Mars as if they are there. And virtually, they are. Northern Arizona University’s Mars Lab immerses them into the Martian environment with the aid of 3D goggles and the latest images from the Curiosity Rover and orbiting satellites. Christopher Edwards runs the Mars Rover Operations and Analysis Laboratory where he can explore old lake beds, collapsed lava flows, shifting sand dunes and rocky ridges.
“It’s basically like walking on the surface of Mars. You put this headset on and it sort of transports you to the surface, and the interesting part about that is it really gives you a sense for the scale of things that you’re looking at on Mars. And the goal there is to help scientists better make decision or better view the landscape that they’re looking at,” says Edwards.
Edwards works with a team of international scientists to get a glimpse into the geologic history of Mars.
“What we really want to know about are the past environments that the rover has encountered. So, what was the place that the rover is driving over right now? What was it like billions of years ago? And we understand that by looking at the composition of the rocks, looking at how the rocks express themselves, are they layered, or are they bedded? So, do they have these rhythmic signatures of lake deposits or river deposits, or sand dunes? And so we’re really spending a lot of time trying to characterize this past environment,” says Edwards.
The more data Edwards and his team collects, the sharper the picture becomes about past Martian environments.