Layered mesas inside Martian crater


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Layered mesas inside a Martian crater

Cool image time! In their weekly release of new images, the hi-resolution camera team for Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have posted a wonderful image of the complex layering and terracing inside Spallanzani Crater, located in the high latitudes of the red planet’s southern hemisphere. The image on the right is only one small section of the much larger image.

So what is the composition of these layers? Spallanzani Crater lies in the high latitudes of the Southern hemisphere (around 60 degrees in latitude) so there is a good possibility that the deposits are ice-rich. If we look more closely we will notice fractured mounds, which sometimes indicate the presence of subsurface ice. Another interesting observation is the presence of grooves in the shaded slopes of some of the layers. Perhaps these grooves formed because of the sublimation (the direct transfer of solid ice to water vapor) of ice from these slopes since slopes tend to get warmer than the surrounding terrains.

This image hardly shows a breakthrough discovery, but I like it because it illustrates nicely the wonderful but very alien landscape of Mars. To walk its surface will be a daily adventure for its first colonists.

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One comment

  • J Fincannon

    Do you really think we will be able to go to Mars? It seems that first one would have to rule out Martian life forms such as microbiology (not necessarily for the safety of the astronauts, but the ethics of contamination of the ecology). But how can one do that unless one looks everywhere, which might cost a lot, besides being impossible? I am not referring to the surface only (and you would have to look everywhere on the surface to be sure), but to below the surface to an unknown distance. If Martian life withdrew from the surface over millennia, then it may still be down there, 1 meter, 10 meters, 100 meters or even 12 miles (http://phys.org/news/2015-01-life-dozen-miles-beneath-earth.html). Any human surface contamination could eventually make its way into the below ground ecology. But the only way to be sure there is NO such ecology is to look everywhere below ground, a costly likely impossible process.

    Somewhere along the way, speculated LUNAR ecology (by Sagan, 1961, http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=18476&page=34) was disregarded, I am not sure on what basis. Perhaps post-Apollo lunar scientists felt a few “deep” core samples (down to 3 m) was sufficient to rule out such life. Of course, such samples were taken by humans, whose lander EVA depressurizations possibly provided some of the 10^12 microorganisms on the humans an opportunity to join such an ecology.

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