May 26, 2008

York Goes to Mars!

It was very exciting last night catching the landing of the Mars Phoenix Mission on TV -- unfortunately I only caught the last half of the show.

Of course, the mission's meteorological station is a significant Canadian contribution -- and a huge part of that is York scientists from the Earth & Space Science & Engineering department.

Great coverage in the Globe and Mail today as well as all over the Internet.

Some nice coverage today in York's online newsletter, Y-File:

Scientists from York University led the design and construction of the meteorological equipment, in collaboration with the University of Alberta, Dalhousie University, the University of Aarhus in Denmark, the Finnish Meteorological Institute, and the Canadian firms of MDA Space Missions and Optech Inc., with $37 million in funding from the Canadian Space Agency.

The meteorological station consists of temperature, wind and pressure sensors, as well as a laser based-light-detecting-and-ranging (lidar) system. The lidar will shoot pulses of laser light into the Martian sky, precisely measuring components of the atmosphere, such as dust, ground fog and clouds, from the surface up to a range of 20 km.

York researchers will receive a daily Martian weather report for the duration of the mission – approximately 92 days, or 90 Martian sols.

"We’re very excited to be deploying Canadian technology on Mars for the first time," says Jim Whiteway, professor of space engineering at York and the principal investigator for the Canadian team. “Our instrumentation will observe clouds and dust and this will provide new insight into the climate of Mars and the planet’s potential for supporting life.”

The also very nicely profile the York members of the team:
Jim Whiteway, professor of space engineering and Canada Research Chair in Space & Engineering & Atmospheric Science. Whiteway is a noted expert in the use of lidar technology to study cloud processes. He is the team’s principal investigator and led the design, testing and implementation of the lidar system.

Allan Carswell, professor emeritus, Department of Physics & Astronomy, Faculty of Science & Engineering. Carswell is one of Canada’s pre-eminent space scientists and an internationally-recognized leader in the field of lidar systems. In 1974, he founded Optech Inc., to develop commercial systems based on lidar technology. The lidar technology pioneered by Carswell will measure dust, clouds and fog in the Martian atmosphere.

Peter Taylor, professor of atmospheric science and applied mathematics, Department of Earth & Space Science & Engineering, Faculty of Science & Engineering. Taylor studies wind and blowing snow in the Canadian Arctic, making him an ideal scientist for research into the Martian sub-polar climate. He and his team completed wind-tunnel testing of the temperature sensors that will be used on the Mars lander, and they will conduct research into issues related to dust concentrations in the lower atmosphere of Mars and sublimation of exposed ice surfaces.

Cameron Dickinson, research associate, Department of Earth & Space Science & Engineering, Faculty of Science & Engineering, is studying the scattering of laser light with airborne Martian dust. Dickinson will be heavily involved in the operations of the meteorological instruments, including creation of the daily commands that will be uploaded to the lander, and managing the data that is sent back to Earth twice each day. He will also assist the science team at large, organizing and scheduling the experiments for all six instruments each day.

In memoriam – Diane Michelangeli (1962 to 2007)

Diane Michelangeli was a planetary scientist at York University and principal investigator for the Phoenix mission. As a specialist in microscopic measurements of clouds and their particles, she developed some of the most advanced computer models of the clouds and dust on Mars. Her work – so vital to understanding the atmospheric processes taking place near the landing site – made her a natural choice to lead the Canadian science contribution to the Phoenix mission. She died of cancer on August 30, 2007.

(Yes, there is science in Toronto north of Bloor ;-)

1 comment:

David J. Fiander said...

I found out about the York contribution via the May 17 Quirks & Quarks podcast, which included an interview with your Dr Taylor.