ASU graduates 5,300 students

December 10, 2010

More than 5,300 Arizona State University students celebrated a special milestone this holiday season, as they collected their degrees at ASU commencement ceremonies Dec. 15 and 16.

Graduates from all campuses included about 500 engineers, 800 business students, 700 teachers and school administrators, and almost 1,500 in liberal arts and sciences. Top undergraduate majors in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences are psychology, communication, biological sciences, political science and English. Download Full Image

About 160 nurses graduated, along with 200 nutritionists and other health professionals from the College of Nursing and Health Innovation. Also receiving their degrees were about 80 journalists from the Cronkite School and 290 designers, dancers, musicians and artists from the Herberger Institute.

The College of Technology and Innovation graduated about 200 who are hoping to provide solutions to problems in energy, transportation, biotechnology, environment and other critical areas. Another 200 received degrees from the College of Public Programs, in fields such as criminology, social work and public affairs.

Individual colleges and schools also had their own smaller convocation ceremonies, spread out over Dec. 15-17. 

Twelve students received Moeur Awards from the ASU Alumni Association for graduating with 4.0 grade-point averages, with all their coursework taken at ASU. They were Hannah Bartle, Kayla Dunaway, Travis Egbert, Heather Hayes, Jacob Lansburg, Katherine Lewton, Brandi Lugo, Jolie McCullough, Kellie Neilson, Ramin Tadayon, Jennifer Varieur and Maryna Wilkey.

The commencement ceremony was broadcast live on the Web, at">">

All-star Mars camera breaks longevity record

December 10, 2010

A space exploration milestone has fallen. On Dec. 15, 2010, NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter became the longest-running spacecraft at Mars, breaking the 3,340-day record set by NASA's Mars Global Surveyor, which operated at Mars from Sept. 11, 1997 to Nov. 2, 2006. NASA launched the Mars Odyssey orbiter on April 7, 2001, and it arrived at Mars Oct. 24, 2001.

Odyssey made its most famous discovery – evidence for copious water ice just below the dry surface of Mars – during its first few months, and it finished its radiation-safety check for future astronauts before the end of its prime mission in 2004. The bonus years of extended missions since then have enabled many accomplishments that would not have been possible otherwise.

"The extra years have allowed us to build up the highest-resolution maps covering virtually the entire planet," said Jeffrey Plaut, Odyssey project scientist of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in Pasadena, Calif. These maps are the product of the" target="_blank">Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS), a multiband camera which began mapping Feb. 19, 2002.

To note Odyssey's breaking the longevity record, the THEMIS team, working with NASA, has prepared a" target="_blank">slide show of remarkable images taken by the instrument.

Heat-seeking eye

Swooping around the Red Planet in a 2-hour orbit locked on the Sun, Odyssey makes two passes over any given spot on the ground each Martian day, once at a local time of about 4 p.m. and again in the predawn hours around 4 a.m. As a result, THEMIS scans the planet day and night.

"The day-night contrast is highly important for how THEMIS operates," said Philip Christensen, the instrument's designer and Principal Investigator. Christensen, a Regents' Professor of geological science in ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration, is the director of the Mars Space Flight Facility on the Tempe campus.

THEMIS, he explained, is a camera that images Mars simultaneously in five visual and 10 infrared bands or colors. "The daily temperature differences between afternoon and the predawn night can tell scientists a lot about nature of the surface materials – whether they're durable and compacted like rock, or loose and friable like sand and dust."

For example, rock is slower than sand to warm up during daytime, but it holds heat much better at night. When THEMIS images the ground late at night, exposures of rock and hard sediments glow with residual warmth, while sandy and dusty areas – much warmer than rock during the day – look dark and cold to THEMIS' heat-sensing eye.

In addition, Christensen said, "By comparing how the surface looks at all of THEMIS' different wavelengths, we gain insights about the mineralogy of the surface rocks and sediments." This information is highly important, he added, for NASA's goal of looking for Martian environments that might have once harbored life.

Mars: the big picture

One of THEMIS' most important results is the best" target="_blank">map of Mars ever compiled. "Parts of Mars have been mapped at higher resolution by other instruments," Christensen said. "But this is the most detailed map so far that covers the whole planet." Made by assembling nearly 21,000 individual images, it shows Mars at a resolution of 100 meters (330 feet) per pixel.

How long will Mars Odyssey and THEMIS continue? The spacecraft's supply of maneuvering fuel can keep it operating for years to come, and THEMIS remains in fine working order. Although THEMIS has mapped Mars at 100 meters' resolution, mission scientists plan to expand the area of Mars mapped by THEMIS at visual wavelengths, where the instrument's resolution is 18 meters (60 feet).

NASA has planned future work for Odyssey, in addition to having the orbiter continue its own science and its ongoing relay service for the Mars Exploration Rover mission. If needed, controllers will adjust Odyssey's orbit so the spacecraft is in a favorable position for a communication relay role during the August 2012 landing of NASA's next rover, the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL).

Said Christensen, "THEMIS provides a crucial link between the early whole-planet views from Mars Global Surveyor and the highly focused and detailed studies of later instruments, both from orbit and on the Martian surface." Download Full Image

Robert Burnham

Science writer, School of Earth and Space Exploration