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Pomona students get rare opportunity involving Mars spacecraft

Students in a Pomona College Planetary Geology class are in the midst of an opportunity that many planetary scientists only dream about. On April 19, they ordered photographs of specific geologic features on Mars to be taken by NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter for their own student-designed research projects. They’ll receive the beautiful photos by April 26, if all goes as planned.

The photos from Mars Odyssey’s thermal emission imaging system (THEMIS) will be used by the students to investigate aeolian (wind-blown) processes, a potential ocean shoreline, outflow channels and the complex interplay between subsurface ice and impact craters.

According to Professor Eric Grosfils, who teaches Planetary Geology, the Pomona students, who are primarily freshmen and sophomores, will be one of the first college classes to have this type of opportunity. To date most of the Mars Student Imaging Project (MSIP) education outreach effort has focused on K-12.

“For that matter,” says Grosfils, “I’ve never gotten to target a Mars spacecraft to have it collect a particular image in my 15 years in geology. It’s incredible that my introductory students have this opportunity.”