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Meteor Crater Field Camp

October 10, 2011

I had the opportunity the last week of September to participate in the Meteor Crater Field Camp in Arizona.  This camp was put on by the Lunar Planetary Institute and NASA’s Lunar Science Institute  to help train planetary science graduate students.  For a week we hiked around the crater learning about impacts and investigating the geology we found. And it was wonderful to see that 11 of the 16 students there were gals!

Meteor Crater is a fairly young crater, believed to have formed around 50 thousand years ago.  The public normally can only walk a little ways from the museum, but we were able to hike all around the crater including down to the bottom and back.  It was a nice treat to hike along the “Astronaut Trail” where the astronauts trained for moon missions.  After learning about the known geology of the crater, we conducted research outside the crater rim.  We calculated the probable travel times for large ejected boulders and studied layers within a quarry to investigate the formation mechanism.

Now, I’m not a field geologist by any stretch and instead spend most of my research time in front of a computer performing modeling.  However, I found this field experience to be invaluable.  There is just no substitute for getting out and seeing the effects of planetary processes first-hand.  With remote sensing data we often don’t have the resolution or capability to view certain features on the surface and subsurface. This leaves us to use our knowledge of how physical processes occur on Earth and to apply models to attempt at filling in the gaps.

Have you had the opportunity to take a field course or participate in a terrestrial analogue study?  Do you think field courses are valuable for planetary scientists? How have your experience(s) contributed to your research?  What would you say are the most important skills/experiences gained when participating in a field course?

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