Tag Archives: avalanche

An avalanche pile on Mars

Avalanche pile on Mars

Cool image time! The Mars Odyssey science team has released this very interesting image, cropped on the right, of an avalanche debris pile formed when the large section of cliff on the left broke off and collapsed into the valley below. The valley is called Tiu Valles and is located close to Mars’ equator.

The wide spread of the debris is an indication of several things. For one, it illustrates the light Martian gravity, which allowed the debris to flow much farther than it would have on Earth.

For another, the spread of the debris pile suggests to me that the material that fell was very crumbly. It might have been able to hold together as a cliff for a long time, but when it collapsed the material broke apart almost like sand. Think of a sand castle you might have built as a kid on the beach. With a little moisture you can pack the sand to form solid shapes, but if your shape breaks apart the sand falls not as large blocks but as crumbly soft and loose sand. That is what appears to have happened here.

There is also the suggestion to me that water might have been involved somehow in this collapse. I am not a geologist so this speculation on my part is very unreliable. However, the shape of the debris pile suggests a liquid flow. The flow itself wasn’t liquid, but liquid might have somehow been involved in causing this geological event. We would need a geologist however to clarify these guesses on my part.

Catching an avalanche on Mars, as it happens

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter team today released this really cool image from Mars, showing an avalanche near the North Pole, in progress. The image looks directly down the cliff face from above. At the base of the cliff we can see the dust cloud from the crash of material billowing out away from the scarp.

What impresses me most about this image is that it was taken by an orbiting spacecraft approximately 200 miles above the planet’s surface, moving at thousands of miles an hour. Yet, the camera not only had the resolution to see the cloud of dust, it could snap the image fast enough to capture the actual fall of material (the white wisps down the side of the cliff that are reminiscent of a waterfall).

Also intriguing is the visible steep face of the cliff face itself. I know a lot of rock climbers who would love to literally get their hands (and chocks) on that rock face. And in Mars’s one-third gravity, rock climbing would surely be different.

avalanche on Mars