Kalani Team Studies Mars through Topographic Data Analysis

Riley Kishaba

Riley Kishaba

A team of students from Kalani High undertook a fascinating study of the Gale Crater, an impact crater on Mars. Senior Riley Kishaba, juniors Lee Danielle Young, and Liana Michelle Young, and sophomore Andrew Segawa joined forces to train on the ENVI Program and learn how to create topographic images of Mars. They wanted to find evidence that water existed on Mars in the past.

The students concluded that water might have been present in the past. They discovered CHNOPS (Carbon, Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Oxygen, Phosphorus and Sulfur) in the soil content that are considered basic elements for life. In studying the Gale Crater, they also found “splash marks on the outer portion that looked like dried-up water.” They additionally identified mudstones in the crater’s Yellowknife Bay that indicated the possible existence of water. They even discussed the possibility of ice under the surface of the planet. Along with this topographic study, they also researched Curiosity, which is the car-sized robotic rover currently exploring the Gale Crater on Mars as part of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission. The team ultimately prepared a 20-minute slide show on “Life on Mars” that they presented at the Japan Super Science Fair at Ritsumeikan High School in Kyoto.

What were some of the tough spots in their project? According to Riley

“The most challenging part of this project was taking what we learned and turning it into a short presentation. Since the question of life on Mars is controversial we had to make sure that we were prepared for the questions and answers based on our research. Learning the ENVI program was also difficult because it’s intended for scientists engaged in topographic modeling.”

They received invaluable mentor support in planetary geology from Dr. Jeffrey Taylor, professor, and Linda Martel, academic support specialist, both with the Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology at UH Manoa. In addition, they worked with Art and Rene Kimura of the Hawaii Space Grant Consortium, creators of the Future Flight Hawaii educational program. The Kimuras were instrumental in bringing the student team together and connecting them with Taylor and Martel. Scott Rowland, a volcanologist in the UH Department of Geology and Geophysics, shared work being done with Curiosity. Finally, librarian Anne Torige at Kalani was the school-based supporter throughout the team’s project. She also accompanied the students to Japan for their presentation.

What were some the valuable lessons learned from this project? Riley said

“I valued this opportunity to work with these mentors that also sparked my interest in pursuing a career in science. It was amazing to hear and learn about the current research and samples that Curiosity is finding on the red planet.”

While the Young sisters and Aaron are underclassmen at Kalani, Riley is a senior. She plans to attend the UH, possibly majoring in engineering. She wants to maintain her connections with mentors Taylor and Martel and the Kimuras.

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