Flying robot maps Surprise Valley
Yep. Scientific American has more on the unmanned aircraft that NASA and the USGS is using to explore the alien landscape of northeastern California:
Yesterday marked the first day of the team’s expedition to map the underground faults and fractures in Surprise Valley, California using SIERRA, a small aircraft capable of flying without a pilot on board, or unmanned aerial system (UAS). Faults and fractures generate distinct magnetic patterns,or anomalies. Geophysicists can look at a set of magnetic readings for a region and readily distinguish those representing these subsurface features from those that don’t.
Looking at the raw data from the yesterday’s survey of the middle and southern central detailed regions, Jonathan spotted a magnetic anomaly continuing along the same direction as the anomaly he and Anne had mappedwhen they performed a ground-based survey of the area surrounding the southern part of the feature. So far, the data hints that the feature may in fact represent a single structure, but the team can’t draw any conclusions before SIERRA completes the map, at least of the feature of interest, by surveying the north central detailed region, which the team has planned for it to do tomorrow.
Knowing whether or not the feature is continuous is important, since the magnitude of an earthquake that can occur along a fault is determined primarily by the length of the fault. The longer the fault, the larger the earthquake it causes when it ruptures. In other words, if the feature the researchers are interested in is long and continuous, it will cause a much larger earthquake than if it were partitioned into segments.
Click around the links there to see the landscape – it’s a high desert that really does look like another world.