Bradley Central High School students in Dr. Barbie Buckner’s physics class were the first students in Tennessee to present scientific research to a NASA/ Arizona State University Mars Education Program scientist.
Students presented their final research to scientist Dr. Briony Horgan Thursday.
Horgan is conducting research as postdoctoral work through the program.
The research presentation began by defining the parts of a crater as a foundation for introducing the class’ research question.
The class wanted to find the relationship between the area of a crater and the area of the ejecta blanket.
When a meteoroid hits the surface of Mars, it creates a shockwave which impacts the surface of the planet fracturing rock on the surface to create a crater. This impact also scatters debris around the crater and impacts the area about the crater. This is called an ejecta blanket.
“We basically found ... one set area of Mars. We just researched craters from it. Then figured out the area and then the ejecta blanket,” student Logan Blackwell said.
For their project, the class focused on preserved craters and modified craters.
Lindsey Logan said the class was not focusing on destroyed craters, because “they are completely filled with sediment, are usually very old and do not have an ejecta blanket.”
As part of the project, the physics class was able to target an area on mars to have a satellite image taken to support their research. The process to pick a spot to target for a THEMIS (thermal emission imaging system) image started with establishing it could not be a crater within a crater, according to Joey Ford.
Next, students searched aerial images of the planet to determine a latitude and longitude. The location of the students’ image was determined by students submitting potential sites on which the class voted.
For the physics students, when the locations came down to the final two, they were actually proposing the same spot.
Students Collin Gwaltney and Ford chose the location that became the target crater for the project. Two other classes Buckner teaches also participated in the program.
The unveiling of the classes’ images was a highlight of the project.
Gwaltney said his favorite part of the project was the unveiling of the image from the coordinates the students had chosen.
“It was really exciting because we were the first people to see it,” physics student Lindsey Long said.
The image is comprised of 19 semi-rectangular shots that show approximately 21 meters across of Mars surface.
On the day the class’ image was revealed, they had a Mars party, complete with M&M’s donated by M&M Mars.
Students had a vague idea of what they would see because of broad aerial shots of the planet. However, the THEMIS image showed even more detail than they expected.
The students determined an average ejecta blanket is three times the area of the actual crater.
“It was just really interesting knowing what else is out there, besides just Earth,” Blackwell said.
Ford said he enjoyed having the opportunity to work on such a project.
“I didn’t even know they had technology where they were already taking pictures of Mars,” Ford said
Blackwell said it was challenging to get all of the work done in the time allotted.
Long said sometimes the computers created challenges.
Ford said he was nervous during the presentation portions of the project.
“There was kind of a lot of pressure there to say the right things and to not mess up,” physics student Tyler Colbaugh said.
Blackwell said he enjoyed being part of the first group that saw the image.
Long, Monse Rincon and Colbaugh enjoyed having the opportunity to work with the NASA technology while preparing for their presentation to the scientist.
Long presented on the different types of craters during the report.
Colbaugh said the class had hypothesized a crater that had a larger area would have a larger ejecta blanket and a smaller crater would have a smaller ejecta blanket.
The class found the area of an ejecta blanket of a crater is three times the size of the crater itself.