At first, it sounds like a plot from Austin Powers, with Dr. Evil surreptitiously plotting to take control of a satellite in orbit around Mars, but, that’s exactly what you can do with NASA’s HiRise satellite.
HiRise is currently in orbit around the red planet and has a resolution or 1/3 of a metre, or roughly the length of your forearm, which is significantly better than you currently get when you look at your house with Google Maps (1 metre resolution).
Now, here’s the clincher. The folks at NASA have decided to enlist us civilian scientists in a crowd-sourcing experiment, allowing us to propose targets for HiRise to photograph in detail. How cool is that? Yep, that’s right. You really can (kinda) take control of a satellite in orbit around a planet some 250 million miles away. Dr Evil would be proud.
HiWish is the crowd-sourcing site where you can review maps of Mars, look for curiosities, check out the sites others have proposed and review footage from previous runs. And if your proposed site is selected for photography, you’ll get an email with a link to the results.
I proposed looking at the edge of the Hellas impact crater in the southern regions of the planet and, in particular, focusing on the burst edge of what looks like a lake (that has now dried up). The “lake” has irregular walls rather than crater walls and there’s a broad run-off stretching down to the left, eroding the land as it falls away inside the Hellas basin. It seems to me that the lake wall appears to have burst and that might reveal some clues about Mars’ water past.
I must confess, I’m a bit skeptical about vast amounts of water existing for any length of time on Mars, simply because Martian gravity is so weak (it’s closer to the Moon’s than the Earth’s), and without an active molten core, Mars lacks a protective magnetosphere, which allows the Sun’s radiation to strip away its thin atmosphere, leaving the planet with such a low pressure atmosphere that water can barely exist in liquid form. But, that’s in the here and now, perhaps things were radically different in the past. Certainly the recent discoveries of ice water on Mars and the appearance of subterranean run off gives hope that there’s still some kind of watery brine below the surface.
If you pick out a spot on Mars for the HiRes to photograph, please tell me about what you chose and why (paste the link in your comment)
Update: Time Magazine has an interesting gallery of photos showing the evidence for water on Mars
Further Update: NASA photographed the site I suggested, you can view the results in Postcards from Mars.