Tag Archives: Mars Express

Is it a volcano or an impact crater? Mars Express wants to know!

Europe’s Mars Express orbiter has taken a high resolution image of Ismenia Patera, a very large crater located in the Arabia Terra region of Mars, the largest part of the transition zone between the low flat northern plains and the high rough southern terrain.

The crater is intriguing to scientists because they are not sure if it was created by an impact, or a volcano.

Certain properties of the surface features seen in Arabia Terra suggest a volcanic origin: for example, their irregular shapes, low topographic relief, their relatively uplifted rims and apparent lack of ejected material that would usually be present around an impact crater.

However, some of these features and irregular shapes could also be present in impact craters that have simply evolved and interacted with their environment in particular ways over time.

There is also additional evidence that this region was once home to volcanic activity. If so, that activity would have changed the terrain, and thus made its geological history more complex and difficult to decipher, a fact that is important since this is also a region that might have been at the edge of theorized northern Martian Ocean.


More evidence of giant flash floods on Mars

Mangala Valles

A newly released image from ESA’s Mars Express orbiter shows that catastrophic flooding — caused by ice melted from volcanic activity — created the Mangala Valles channels on Mars.

The perspective image on the right shows the topography of the region, with low points indicated in blue and high points by red. The channel along the right side of the image is Mangala Valles itself, though you can also see additional flood channels to the left of it passing around and through a large crater whose floor now stands above the surrounding terrain caused by the erosion of the rim plus the deposit of sediment inside the crater during the flooding.

I have a soft spot for Mangala Valles. When it was first photographed by the first orbiter missions to Mars in the early 1970s I was struck by its river-like appearance and striking topography. I therefore placed my Martian colony here in one of my efforts at science fiction writing. I figured it a good location for colonization, as there would likely be water and, by roofing over the deep canyon, a colony could be built relatively easily.

Better locations on Mars have since been found, but the location still intrigues me.


Mars Express will do an extremely close flyby of the martian moon Phobos on December 29.

Mars Express will do an extremely close flyby of the martian moon Phobos on December 29.

Late this month, ESA’s Mars Express will make the closest flyby yet of the Red Planet’s largest moon Phobos, skimming past at only 45 km [28 miles] above its surface. The flyby on 29 December will be so close and fast that Mars Express will not be able to take any images, but instead it will yield the most accurate details yet of the moon’s gravitational field and, in turn, provide new details of its internal structure.


In celebration of its tenth year in orbit, scientists running the Mars Express mission have released global mineral maps of Mars.

In celebration of its tenth year in orbit, scientists running the Mars Express mission have released global mineral maps of Mars. With video.

The unique atlas comprises a series of maps showing the distribution of minerals formed in water, by volcanic activity, and by weathering to create the dust that makes Mars red. They create a global context for the dominant geological processes that sculpted the planet we see today.

Take a look at the video. It is fascinating to see where these minerals concentrate.


Mars Express has found more evidence that Mars once had oceans.

Mars Express has found more evidence that Mars once had oceans.

Two oceans have been proposed: 4 billion years ago, when warmer conditions prevailed, and also 3 billion years ago when subsurface ice melted following a large impact, creating outflow channels that drained the water into areas of low elevation.

“MARSIS penetrates deep into the ground, revealing the first 60–80 metres of the planet’s subsurface,” says Wlodek Kofman, leader of the radar team at IPAG. “Throughout all of this depth, we see the evidence for sedimentary material and ice.” The sediments revealed by MARSIS are areas of low radar reflectivity. Such sediments are typically low-density granular materials that have been eroded away by water and carried to their final destination.

This later ocean would however have been temporary. Within a million years or less, Dr Mouginot estimates, the water would have either frozen back in place and been preserved underground again, or turned into vapour and lifted gradually into the atmosphere. “I don’t think it could have stayed as an ocean long enough for life to form.”


Mountains and buried ice on Mars

Mountains and buried ice on Mars.

New images from the high-resolution stereo camera on ESA’s Mars Express orbiter allow a closer inspection [of the Phlegra Montes mountain range] and show that almost every mountain is surrounded by ‘lobate debris aprons’ – curved features typically observed around plateaus and mountains at these latitudes. Previous studies have shown that this material appears to have moved down the mountain slopes over time, and looks similar to the debris found covering glaciers here on Earth.


Mars Express takes a close look at the Mars volcano Tharsis Tholus

Mars Express takes a close look at one of Mars’ giant volcanoes, Tharsis Tholus.

At least two large sections have collapsed around its eastern and western flanks during its four-billion-year history and these catastrophes are now visible as scarps up to several kilometers high. The main feature of Tharsis Tholus is, however, the caldera in its center. It has an almost circular outline, about 32 x 34 km, and is ringed by faults that have allowed the caldera floor to subside by as much as 2.7 km.


Mars atmosphere has more water vapor than predicted

Data from Mars Express has found that the Martian upper atmosphere has far more water vapor than predicted.

“The vertical distribution of water vapour is a key factor in the study of Mars’ hydrological cycle, and the old paradigm that it is mainly controlled by saturation physics now needs to be revised,” said Luca Maltagliati [of the Laboratoire Atmosphères, Milieux, Observations Spatiales (LATMOS) in Guyancourt, France]. “Our finding has major implications for understanding the planet’s global climate and the transport of water from one hemisphere to the other.”

“The data suggest that much more water vapour is being carried high enough in the atmosphere to be affected by photodissociation,” added Franck Montmessin, also from LATMOS, who is the Principal Investigator for SPICAM and a co-author of the paper. “Solar radiation can split the water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen atoms, which can then escape into space. This has implications for the rate at which water has been lost from the planet and for the long-term evolution of the Martian surface and atmosphere.”