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The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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GW group relates Earth and Mars

A research group headed by a GW professor made a discovery that Mars and Earth are distinctly closer in their physical make-ups then previously believed.

GW Professor Robert Tolson and Senior Research Staff Scientist Gerald Keating are leading the research group. Members of the Joint Institute for the Advancement of Flight Sciences at GW’s Hampton,Va., site, a newly opened department under the School of Engineering and Applied Science, were studying topographical analyses of Mars provided by the Mars Global Surveyor in orbit around the planet. During the mission, however, some control of the satellite was lost.

Tolson said he immediately noticed a turbulence-type effect similar to that experienced on airplanes and upon further investigation discovered a series of 15,000- to 20,000-foot-high waves termed atmospheric bulges. These bulges, which reside in the opposing upper atmosphere of Mars, are a result of intense shock waves caused by large mountain ranges on the planetary surface, the team said.

These global shock waves are the equivalent to the cause of turbulence during an airplane’s flight. Mountainous and hilly regions on the Earth’s surface cause swirling winds and eventually form soaring wind vortexes that bounce airplanes up and down.

Tolson cited the team’s discovery as one of high importance.

We’ve never seen an atmospheric phenomenon quite like this before, especially not at this altitude, Tolson said.

Though Tolson said it is unclear whether such a phenomenon exists in the Earth’s atmosphere, we just can’t send balloons or aircraft high enough for analysis without them burning up, Tolson said.

He said he believes the atmospheric bulges are the result of Mars’ natural topographic features.

In addition to the team’s atmospheric findings, the JIAFS also experimented with a new method of satellite braking and orbiting. Called Aerobraking by JIAFS scientists, a satellite, such as the Mars Surveyor, uses natural friction with atmospheric air molecules to bend the satellite’s orbit. Tolson said current atmospheric braking methods include using a large rocket to slow a satellite’s flight, a technique that can prove costly and sometimes ineffective, demonstrated by last month’s crash of a NASA satellite.

The new Aerobraking system would employ smaller rockets to control a satellite’s point of entry into a planet’s atmosphere.

The GW team also discovered evidence of seasons on Mars. Top summer temperatures reached a whopping negative 72 degrees Fahrenheit, according to JIAFS studies.

Tolson said he was pleased with his team’s results, though he indicated the next step would be understanding why Mars acts the way it does.

Our findings are still pretty controversial, Tolson said.

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