Oct 6, 2020 - Science

Scientists spot new craters on Mars with AI

Craters on Mars spotted by AI. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

Scientists have used artificial intelligence to spot small, newly formed craters on Mars for the first time.

Why it matters: This use of AI could cut down on the time scientists spend combing through images of the Red Planet's surface taken by orbiters to find interesting features worthy of study.

The state of play: The AI tool, operating on a supercomputer cluster at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, analyzed about 112,000 images taken by one of the cameras aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).

  • The tool found a group of craters in the Noctis Fossae area of Mars, and on Aug. 26, scientists using another camera aboard the MRO confirmed the finding.
  • Researchers behind the tool have now submitted more possible crater candidates for MRO follow-up.

What's next: NASA hopes to one day repurpose the tool for use on board spacecraft heading to deep space destinations like Mars in order to cut down on the time needed to analyze their findings.

  • Instead of scientists back on Earth going through every image beamed home from distant space, the tool could help prioritize exactly what researchers want to see in the first place.
  • Scientists also hope the tool can give them a more complete picture of meteor impacts on Mars in general.
  • "There are likely many more impacts that we haven't found yet," Ingrid Daubar, a JPL scientist who helped develop the tool, said in a statement. "This advance shows you just how much you can do with veteran missions like MRO using modern analysis techniques."
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