Pawsey helps track Martian meteorites to their source

Pawsey supercomputers have helped researchers at Curtin University track the original location of a group of meteorites from Mars flung up to 400 million kilometres to Earth.

The research has pinpointed the Tooting crater, located in the Tharsis region of Mars, as the likely origin for some of the 166 Martian rocks that have been ejected from the surface of the red planet in the past 20 million years, using supercomputing and machine learning to determine potential launch points.

The study, led by Dr Anthony Lagain, from Curtin’s Space Science and Technology Centre, worked with a database of 90 million impact craters compiled from a machine learning algorithm running on Pawsey’s Magnus supercomputer.

The algorithm allowed the team led by Professor Gretchen Benedix to analyse high-resolution images of the red planet to detect impact craters as small as 50 metre in diameter on the surface of Mars.

They particularly looked for young craters and secondary crater fields, created by the debris ejected by some of the larger craters, concluding that the Tooting crater was the most likely source of meteorites ejected 1.1 million years ago.

The algorithm was developed by an interdisciplinary group including Pawsey senior data scientist, Konstantinos Servis, members from the Curtin Institute for Computation and the university’s School of Civil and Mechanical Engineering with funding from the Australian Research Council.

While the findings, published in Nature Communications, are significant by themselves, the algorithm and supercomputing method used has important implications for future astronomy research.

Dr Lagain says the algorithm can be retrained to automatically map any celestial body — including Earth — opening up a world of new applications to understand the formation and evolution of our planet and beyond.

The paper can be found here.

Viking orbiter 1 image of Tooting

Viking Orbiter 1 image from camera A (332S03). Red filter was used for this image. Resolution is about 195 m/pixel. Approximate north is up. Emission Angle: 8.0 Incidence Angle: 61.6 Latitude: 22.6 Longitude: 207.1 Phase Angle: 69.5. NASA - PILOT, Planetary Image Locator Tool, USGS Astrogeology Science Center Tooting crater on Mars.