A river canyon on Mars


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A river on Mars

Cool image time! The image on the right, reduced in resolution significantly to show here, was taken by the Themis camera on Mars Odyssey, and shows an unnamed canyon on Mars. Be sure to click on the image to see the full resolution version.

This canyon of course no longer has anything flowing in it. Moreover, it is not clear whether this was formed by water or lava. Unfortunately, the image is part of a series of “Art images” from Mars Odyssey, where they pick an image and suggest it looks like something else. In this case, they are claiming this looks like a “snake, slithering down the image.” Cute, but not very helpful. And unfortunately, they don’t add any further details at all about the image or its location. The context image suggests this canyon is next to a volcano.

After doing further research at the Themis image site, I was able to locate this image on Mars (using latitude 32.0515 and longitude 152.236 given at the link) and look at the images surrounding this one. Further research identified the volcano as Hecates Tholus in the Elyesium Plantia region to the west of Mars’s giant volcanoes.

Looking at all the nearby Mars Odyssey images, it appears that there are a lot of flows like this in this area, and all of them appear to be lava flows, with this one being the largest. A close look at the area just to the south of where the deep canyon opens out shows that the small surface flow draining into the canyon also appears to sit on much larger surface flows (at least two) that left the surface higher than the surrounding terrain.

Elyesium Plantia itself is a plateau, somewhat close to the border between Mars’s southern highlands and the northern plains where some scientists think an ocean might have once existed. Thus, it makes sense that the canyon drains north, as it is following the dip down to those northern low plains.

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