Monday, March 21, 2011

Conversations at the LPSC: Dr. Michael Bland

Dr. Michael Bland surveys the landscape
in this photograph taken in 2006 in Death Valley, CA by Catherine Neish.

Tonight we move a little bit away from the Decadal survey on Astronomy.fm 's Live from York U. While the topic still comes up in reference to EJSM/JEO I focused on speaking with Dr. Michael Bland about his work studying the icy satellites of Jupiter and Saturn. Mike is a tectonics expert who looks at the geophysics and geomorphology of surface features to glean information about the interiors of these satellites. His specialty is the Jovian moon Ganymede, the largest of all satellites in our solar system and really a world in its own right with a diameter almost 400km larger than that of Mercury. Ganymede may not be the first body you think of when tectonic features come to mind. Certainly, the cracks formed on the surface by internal stresses are less dramatic than they are on Europa and less explosive than on Enceladus. But the terrain is more varied and perhaps less understood on this world.



One of the topics we discussed at length was how much information you can get out of older images. Much of Mike's work depends on previous spacecraft missions, in particular Galileo, which was "deorbited" into Jupiter in 2003. What is astounding to me is how we have learned so much from so little data. However, the paucity of measurements makes the problem more tractable, in some ways, to the actual humans who are doing the work. A professor who specialized in Europa once remarked that you could fit every image taken of the satellite by Galileo on one CD. For Mars, there are individual HiRise images that wouldn't fit into that format!

Speaking of Mars, I have to envy Mike a little bit at LPSC. Since the conference focuses on Mars and the Moon, he had the kind of freedom to explore other talks in the same way that I was able to at the DPS. At LPSC it seems that I am much more chained to one individual ballroom for close to the entirety of the conference.

As a final note, during his time at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, Mike was always an enthusiast for the fieldtrips, such as the one shown above. The southwest was certainly an area with plenty of planetary analogs to tectonic processes. Mike's interview airs tonight on Astronomy.fm 's "Live from York U" program at 8PM EDT (0 UTC).

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