Martian pit on top of Martian dome

Dome with pit
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The photo to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, was taken on March 7, 2021 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and was simply labeled “Pit on Top of Dome in Promethei Terra.”

The cropped section to the right shows one of two such pits visible on the entire image. Promethei Terra is a large 2,000 mile long cratered region due east from Hellas Basin, the deepest large region on Mars.

What caused these pits? The known facts provide clues, but do not really solve the mystery.

First, this image is located in the southern cratered highlands at 45 degrees south latitude. Thus, it is not surprising that it resembles similar terrain in the northern lowlands that suggests an ice layer very close to the surface.
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Today’s blacklisted American: Any business in a Massachusetts town that does not genuflect to BLM and its Marxist agenda

Today's modern witch hunt
Witch burning returns to Massachusetts!

The worst horror of the new leftist blacklisting that is sweeping America is how pervasive it is. This intolerance for dissent is not limited to a small number of people leading the way, but seems to instead be springing upward from that movement’s grass roots.

Today’s blacklist story illustrates this quite starkly.

In the small town of Sturbridge, Mass., a group of 200 left-leaning citizens organized on Facebook to compile a list of businesses to avoid due to insufficient wokeness. The group even planned to present every local business with a pro-Black Lives Matter statement to sign — or face a local boycott.

When the website Turtleboy Sports published that list in full, the woman who created it, Sarah Prager, as well as the administrators of that private Facebook group, Amanda Ivey and Chelsea Ann, then apparently claimed (along with others from that group) that it was merely an internal document not meant for public viewing. They also justified its existence by saying it was not a blacklist but a list of all businesses in town, and had been designed merely to record the political leanings of each so that people would know which businesses had bad political leanings and could be properly avoided. Here are some examples, as noted by Turtleboy:
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Starship prototype #15 completes static fire test

Capitalism in space: SpaceX’s fifteenth Starship prototype successfully completed a static fire test yesterday, and the company is now hoping to do its first test flight this week, possibly as early as tomorrow.

Meanwhile, preparations continue for the first test launch of a Superheavy prototype, as well construction at Boca Chica of the orbital launchpad.

The Orbital Launch Site is a hive of activity, with work ranging from the installation of large GSE (Ground Support Equipment) tanks to continued work on the launch mount and launch and integration tower.

The latter has now started to rise into the air next to the mount, which is yet to receive its launch table.

When finished, the tower will be the tallest structure in the region, at nearly 152 meters — towering over the 120 meter tall, fully integrated Starship/Super Heavy stack. The Tower will eventually host a crane and, as crazy as it initially sounded when Elon revealed it, arms designed to catch the returning booster.

It is not yet clear what the test schedule for Superheavy will be leading to that first orbital launch. They will likely fly a prototype on a hop first, then fly it with Starship stacked above. SpaceX however has not said exactly what its plans are, and even if it had, the company has been quite willing to revise those plans should it decide a change is advisable.

The commercial history of Russia’s Proton rocket

Doug Messier at Parabolic Arc today published a detailed launch history of Russia’s Proton rocket, outlining its commercial rise beginning in the 1990s and its fall in the 2010s with the arrival of SpaceX.

The fading of Proton reflected strong competition from SpaceX’s reusable Falcon 9 rocket, which captured an increasing percentage of commercial launches with significantly lower prices.

There was also a global shift away from Proton’s bread and butter, the geosynchronous communications satellite, toward large constellations deployed into low and medium Earth orbits.

Proton’s reputation was also damaged by serious quality control problems that affected the entire Russian launch industry. Proton suffered 9 launch failures and one partial failure in the 10 years between 2006 and 2015. The booster was left grounded for as long as a year at a time. Insurance rates for Proton flights soared.

Proton appears to still have six launches on its manifest, but the shift in Russia to its Angara rocket likely means the end of Proton’s long history, begun at the very beginnings of the space age in the 1960s, is in sight.

SpaceX leases bigger space at LA port for processing Falcon 9 boosters after launch

Capitalism in space: According to the mayor of Los Angeles, SpaceX has signed a new lease for more space at the city’s port, taking over the facilities no longer used by Sea Launch’s floating launch platform that is now in Russia.

News of the port lease broke on April 26th with a tweet from the mayor of Long Beach, California after the Port of Long Beach (POLB) Commission voted to approve SpaceX’s 24-month sublease with an effective start date of May 1st, 2021. From 2014 to 2020, a massive floating rocket launch complex and associated service ships once used by SeaLaunch called POLB’s Pier 16 home while mothballed and the company left behind a decent amount of infrastructure when it vacated the facility last year.

That includes a ~5600 square meter (~65,000 sq ft) warehouse and office space formerly used to process SeaLaunch payloads and Ukrainian Zenit rockets, as well as a pier and dock space generally optimized for loading and unloading large rockets from rocket transport ships. In other words, Pier 16 is a perfect fit for SpaceX’s needs.

SpaceX has twice before signed similar leases and then canceled them. Now it appears the deal is more firm, as the company appears to be gearing up for regular Starlink satellite launches from Vandenberg, requiring a bigger need in LA for processing Falcon 9 first stage boosters after launch.

I wonder too if this deal might be in connection with Starship and the two used floating oil rigs that SpaceX now owns and is refitting as Superheavy/Starship launch and landing pads. This LA facility would be ideal for these ocean platforms before and after launch.

China launches nine satellites using Long March 6 rocket

China today used its Long March 6 rocket, designed to launch small satellites, to place what the country’s state-run media describes as “nine commercial satellites.”

Two satellites apparently are aimed at Earth observation, while the others are testing various satellite designs.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

11 SpaceX
9 China
7 Russia
2 Rocket Lab

The U.S. still leads China 16 to 9 in the national rankings.

German smallsat rocket startup wins launch contract

Capitalism in space: The German smallsat rocket startup company Isar Aerospace has won its first launch contract, to place an Airbus Earth observation satellite using its new Spectrum rocket.

Isar is one of three new German rocket companies competing for the smallsat market that all hope to launch for the first time next year.

Along with Rocket Factory Augsburg and HyImpulse Technologies, the three startups are competing as part of the German Space Agency DLR’s microlauncher competition.

The competition, which is being run in conjunction with ESA [European Space Agency], will award one of the three startups with 11 million euros ($13 million) in funding later this year. The funding is to be used to support a qualification flight that will carry a payload for a university or research institution for free. A second prize of 11 million euros in funding will then be awarded in 2022 as the final stage of the competition.

In evaluating the three startups, the DLR panel of judges will examine the technical aspects and commercial feasibility of each launcher. As a result, each startup’s success in securing funding and signing launch contracts will play a role in their chance of winning the competition.

Rocket Factory has also won a launch contract, with that commercial launch set for 2024.

Note how ESA is shifting its approach. Previously it focused its commercial effort entirely within the government-controlled Arianespace company. Now it is awarding competitive contracts to independent private companies. It appears that the ESA, like NASA, is adopting the recommendations put forth in my policy paper Capitalism in Space. It no longer wants to be the company but is instead acting as a customer looking for a product to buy.

Hopefully more than one of these three German companies will succeed, so that the competition will increase. That in turn will force prices down while encouraging greater innovation.

Blue Origin protests Starship contract award for lunar lander

Blue Origin today filed a protest with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) of NASA’s decision to award SpaceX’s Starship the sole contract for building a manned lunar lander, claiming the agency “moved the goalposts” during the award process.

Blue Origin says in the GAO protest that its “National Team,” which included Draper, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, bid $5.99 billion for the HLS [Human Landing System] award, slightly more than double SpaceX’s bid. However, it argues that it was not given the opportunity to revise that bid when NASA concluded that the funding available would not allow it to select two bidders, as originally anticipated. NASA requested $3.3 billion for HLS in its fiscal year 2021 budget proposal but received only $850 million in an omnibus appropriations bill passed in December 2020. [emphasis mine]

The highlighted words kind of say it all. Blue Origin’s National Team put in a very high bid. Why should they have any expectation of winning?

Moreover, their track record, especially Blue Origin’s (the leader of the team), pales in comparison to SpaceX.
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John Woodfield RC Gliders

An evening pause: Seems appropriate with Ingenuity flying about on Mars. From the youtube webpage:

This was the maiden flight of my latest design. It was a bit of a mash-up, using existing wings and tail from old models. It weighs 1.5kg and was flying in about 7-10mph of wind. I feel it will be happier in about 5mph. The all-moving tail needs changing slightly as it developed some serious flutter if I picked up too much airspeed.

Hat tip Cotour.

ULA’s Delta-4 Heavy successfully launches NRO spy satellite

ULA today successfully used its most powerful rocket, the Delta-4 Heavy, to place a National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) surveillance satellite into orbit.

ULA now only has three Delta-4 Heavy’s in its inventory. After those launch the rocket will be retired, to be replaced by the most powerful versions of its new Vulcan rocket.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

11 SpaceX
8 China
7 Russia
2 Rocket Lab

The U.S. now leads China 16 to 8 in the national rankings.

Today’s blacklisted American: There are now so many that an online database now exists

They’re coming for you next: Because of the epidemic of blacklisting and oppression that has been sweeping the United States in the past four months, a new online database now exists to track and document them all, with the total now almost 200 people long.

The site’s home page lists the following reasons for getting blackballed, all of which are absurdly unjust and intolerant:
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Study: increase in seasonal Martian streaks after 2018 global dust storm suggests dust not water is their cause

Map of Mars showing location of new linneae after 2018 global dust storm
Click for full image.

The uncertainty of science: A just-published survey of Mars following the 2018 global dust storm found that there was a significant increase in the seasonal dark streaks that scientists call recurring slope lineae, providing more evidence that these streaks are not caused by some form of water seepage but instead are related to some dry process.

The map to the right is figure 2 from that paper. The white dots show the candidate lineae that appeared following the 2018 global dust storm. About half were new streaks, not seen previously.

From the paper’s conclusion:
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The devastating epidemic that simply wasn’t devastating

It is now more than a year since the arrival of the coronavirus in the United States and the panicky wave of fear it brought to our governments and many of our citizens, shutting down whole states, bankrupting millions of businesses, and shuttering schools for practically a whole year. In the process our governments have demanded we change how we live in fundamental ways, from no longer gathering together in any social setting to wearing masks wherever we go, inside or out.

Was that reaction correct? Readers of my website know that I never believed it rational, and that it was an entirely out-of-proportion response to what was really nothing more than a new variation of the flu.

Well, we now have some data that reveals the actual scale of the COVID-19 epidemic, as shown by the CDC graph below:
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Bill Nelson: now an advocate of private commercial space?

Though this is certainly not a firm rule, I rarely pay much attention to the nomination hearings in the Senate that take place whenever a new administration from another party takes over and nominates a new set of Washington apparatchiks to run various government agencies. Almost always, you can glean most of what you need to know by reading the nominee’s opening statement as well as later news reports. Saves a lot of time.

Last week came the nomination hearing of former senator Bill Nelson as NASA’s new administrator. As I had expected, based on all reports the hearing was a lovefest, with almost all questions friendly and enthusiastic. This is generally what happens when a Democrat gets nominated, as the Democrats have no reason to oppose the nominee and the Republicans generally don’t play “we oppose all Democrats, no matter what.” It also always happens when the nominee is a former member of that exclusive senatorial club, as Bill Nelson was.

The first news reports also mentioned that Nelson seemed surprisingly enthusiastic towards commercial space, given his past hostility towards it. This report by Mark Whittington today at The Hill provides a much deeper look, and notes that, as his report’s headline states, Nelson is now “a born-again” believer in the idea of capitalism in space, with NASA now merely being the customer. This is a major change from his position when he was a senator, when he tried repeatedly to strangle commercial space and give its money to SLS.

Nelson also announced that he was totally committed to continuing the Artemis program and timetable as laid out by the Trump administration:
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Ingenuity completes third flight!

Low resolution montage showing Ingenuity's third flight on Mars, April 25, 2021
Click for full resolution. Individual images can be found, in sequence, here, here, here, and here.

Early today Ingenuity successfully completed its third flight on Mars, traveling a considerable distance north from its taken-off point and then returning almost exactly to that point, as shown by the montage of four Perseverance navigation images above.

You will want to look at the high resolution montage, as the details are much clearer. The large mountains in the background are the rim of Jezero Crater. The smaller plateau in front of these mountains and much closer is the edge of the delta that Perseverance will explore.

According to this NASA press release:

The helicopter took off at 4:31 a.m. EDT (1:31 a.m. PDT), or 12:33 p.m. local Mars time, rising 16 feet (5 meters) – the same altitude as its second flight. Then it zipped downrange 164 feet (50 meters), just over half the length of a football field, reaching a top speed of 6.6 feet per second (2 meters per second).

I have embedded below the fold video of the helicopter’s take off, flight to the north, and then return and landing, created from Perseverance images. Because the camera did not pan the helicopter moves off frame for the middle part of its flight. In the coming days I expect they will assemble a video showing the entire flight.

The fourth flight is now only days away.
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Soyuz-2 rocket launches 36 more OneWeb satellites

Capitalism in space: Russia’s Soyuz-2 rocket today successfully launched from its Vostochny spaceport another 36 more OneWeb satellites, raising that internet constellation to 182 satellites of a planned 650 satellites.

The constellation will take 20 Soyuz launches to finish, and like other competitor services such as Starlink, is designed to provide high speed, low latency broadband services to areas where such service is unavailable now. Whereas Starlink is being marketed to individuals, OneWeb’s services are designed for enterprise customers, including broadband providers. User terminals can enable 3G, LTE, 5G, and Wi-Fi service over land, sea, and air.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

11 SpaceX
8 China
7 Russia
2 Rocket Lab

The U.S. still leads China 15 to 8 in the national rankings. And these numbers will likely see some change as there are four launches scheduled in the next four days. First ULA’s Delta 4 Heavy will launch a spy satellite tomorrow, then the next day Arianespace will do its first launch this year, launching a commercial Airbus Earth observation satellite with a Vega rocket.

On April 28 SpaceX plans to launch another 60 Starlink satellites, followed on April 29th by the launch by China of the first module of its space station, using their Long March 5B rocket.

Things are heating up, and this is only the beginning.

Curiosity’s mesa-top view of Gale Crater

The view of Gale Crater from on top of Mont Mercou
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The photo above, reduced slightly to post here, was taken on April 14, 2021 by one of the navigation cameras on Curiosity. The rover was then and is still sitting on top of the twenty foot high outcrop dubbed Mont Mercou.

Last week I had posted a panorama made from images at this viewpoint looking south towards Mount Sharp. Today’s image is from the same place, but now looks north across the floor of Gale Crater at the areas that Curiosity had previously traveled. I think the smallest mesas on the left of this image are the Murray Buttes which Curiosity was traveling through back in 2016, but am not certain.

The mountains in the far distance are the rim of the crater, about 30 miles away.

China and Russia sign agreement to build moon base

The new colonial movement: Yesterday China and Russia announced that they have signed an agreement to jointly work together to build a base on the Moon.

The link above is from the Chinese state-run press, stating:

In a joint statement issued at the conference, the CNSA and Roscosmos said the moon station will be open to all interested countries, international organizations and partners in terms of planning, design, research, development, implementation and operation at all stages and levels of the project.

The Russian state-run press made a similar announcement.

The new Cold War in space is beginning to shape up. On one side will be free enterprise, led by the United States and the many private companies working independently to make their own profits in space, and on the other side will be the former communist nations whose cultures require all such efforts be controlled from the top by the government.

And like the Cold War of the 20th century, the big question will be the actions of third parties, like Europe, India, Japan, the UAE, and other new space-faring nations. Will they join with the U.S., or join China and Russia to gang up on private enterprise? Right now I will not be surprised if all these countries eventually join the Chinese/Russian effort. Worse, I have great doubts about the U.S. government’s commitment to the capitalist path it is presently taking. If enough pressure was applied by these authoritarian regimes we should not be surprised if our generally authoritarian present government decides to join them as well, using their combined power to squelch freedom and private enterprise in space.

The battle is drawn, but the forces for liberty and freedom are sadly outnumbered.

China names its Mars rover Zhurong, after traditional fire god

The new colonial movement: The Chinese state-run press today announced that it has chosen Zhurong, a traditional Chinese fire god, as the name of the rover that is presently orbiting Mars on its Tianwen-1 orbiter and is targeting a landing sometime in mid-May.

They note that this name matches well with the Chinese name for Mars, “Huo Xing,” or fire star.

The announcement provided little additional information, other than stating that the prime landing site is in the previously announced Utopia Planitia region, which suggests the high resolutions images being taken by Tianwen-1 (unreleased by China) continue to show no reason to change that target.

Ingenuity’s third flight late tonight

First color image from Ingenuity
Click for full image.

According to Håvard Grip, Ingenuity’s Mars Helicopter Chief, the helicopter’s team is now targeting very early Sunday morning for its third test flight.

For the third flight, we’re targeting the same altitude [as flight two], but we are going to open things up a bit too, increasing our max airspeed from 0.5 meters per second to 2 meters per second (about 4.5 mph) as we head 50 meters (164 feet) north and return to land at Wright Brothers Field. We’re planning for a total flight time of about 80 seconds and a total distance of 100 meters (330 feet).

While that number may not seem like a lot, consider that we never moved laterally more than about two-pencil lengths when we flight-tested in the vacuum chamber here on Earth. And while the 4 meters of lateral movement in Flight Two (2 meters out and then 2 meters back) was great, providing lots of terrific data, it was still only 4 meters. As such, Flight Three is a big step, one in which Ingenuity will begin to experience freedom in the sky.

The picture above was the first color image sent down by Ingenuity, taken during the second test flight when the helicopter was seventeen feet in the air and pitched slightly so that it could look east, toward Perseverance. From the caption:

The winding parallel discolorations in the surface reveal the tread of the six-wheeled rover. Perseverance itself is located top center, just out frame. “Wright Brothers Field” is in the vicinity of the helicopter’s shadow, bottom center, with the actual point of takeoff of the helicopter just below the image. A portion of the landing pads on two of the helicopter’s four landing legs can be seen in on the left and right sides of the image, and a small portion of the horizon can be seen at the upper right and left corners.

The data from tonight’s flight will arrive on Earth at around 7:16 am (Pacific) tomorrow.

April 21, 2021 Zimmerman/Pratt podcast

On April 21st, I recorded another 35 minute podcast with Robert Pratt. That podcast is now available at his website at this link. From his description:

An update with author and historian Robert Zimmerman of on the current cancel culture we are experiencing, or as Bob put it: Blacklisting Americans.

Trust me, even though we were reviewing the many blacklist stories I have posted in the past few weeks that you might have read, you want to listen. I expand on those posts, outlining why I am doing them, and what they illustrate about our larger society. Free-thinking and liberty-loving Americans are no longer the majority in this country. We face a terrible battle to make “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” the central principle of America once again.

On a positive note, Pratt has begun re-establishing his radio network in Texas. The corporate blacklisters have tried to silence him, but he’s thumbing his nose at those petty tyrants. Go Robert!

Polygons and an inexplicable depression in ancient Martian crater floor

Polygons and an inexplicable depression in ancient Martian crater
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The photo to the right, cropped to post here, was taken on February 26, 2021 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) of a small section of the floor of 85-mile-wide Galilaei Crater.

The main focus of the image is the polygonal cracks that cover the flat low areas of the crater floor, interspersed randomly by small mesas and shallow irregular depressions. The depression in this particular image is especially intriguing. It to me falls into my “What the heck?!” category, for I can’t imagine why among this terrain of polygons and pointed mesas there should suddenly be an irregularly shaped flat depression with a completely smooth floor that has no cracks at all.

The polygons are less puzzling. Galilaei Crater is very old, its impact thought to have occurred about 4 billion years ago. Though it sits at 5 degrees north latitude, practically on the Martian equator and thus in what is now Mars’ most arid region, scientists believe that once there was a lot of liquid surface water here. The overview map below illustrates this.
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Today’s blacklisted American: Police officer fired for making anonymous donation to another man’s defense fund

Today's modern witch hunt
Burning witches: Norfolk’s new policy for anyone they don’t like.

They’re coming for you next: : A high-ranking police officer in Norfolk, Virginia, was fired from his job when the leftwing newspaper The Guardian revealed he had made an anonymous donation to the defense fund that had been set up for Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager who when attacked by BLM rioters shot and killed two.

According to the Guardian newspaper on Friday, Lieutenant William Kelly, who served as the executive officer of NPD’s internal affairs division, made an anonymous $25 donation to Rittenhouse’s defense in September. … The revelation came after a data breach of the Christian crowdfunding site GiveSendGo, which showed official email addresses belonging to many police officers and public officials. The information was shared with the Guardian by the transparency group Distributed Denial of Secrets.
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Gale Crater’s small mesas were formed by wind, not liquid water

Route through Murray Buttes
The Murray Buttes. Click to see August 11, 2016 post.

The uncertainty of science: Though Curiosity has found apparent evidence of past liquid water during its early travels on the floor of Gale Crater, scientists have now concluded that the first small mesas and buttes it traveled past back in 2016, dubbed the Murray Buttes, were not formed by the flow of liquid water but by wind reshaping ancient sand dunes. From the press release:
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Jupiter’s changing and unchanging Great Red Spot

The changing Great Red Spot of Jupiter
Click for full figure.

In a paper published in March in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, scientists (using images from amateurs, the Hubble Space Telescope, and Juno, scientists) have mapped out the interactions between Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, the longest known storm on the gas giant, and the smaller storms that interact with it as they zip past.

The series of images to the right come from figure 5 of their paper, showing the Spot over a period of three days. The Spot in these images is about 9,000 miles across, less than half the size it had been back in the late 1800s.

The black arrows mark the shifting location and shape of one smaller vortice as it flowed past the Spot from east to west along its northern perimeter, ripping off portions of the Spot as it passed. From the paper’s absract:

During its history, the [Great Red Spot] has shrunk to half its size since 1879, and encountered many smaller anticyclones and other dynamical features that interacted in a complex way. In 2018–2020, while having a historically small size, its structure and even its survival appeared to be threatened when a series of anticyclones moving in from the east tore off large fragments of the red area and distorted its shape. In this work, we report observations of the dynamics of these interactions and show that as a result the [Spot] increased its internal rotation velocity, maintaining its vorticity but decreasing its visible area, and suffering a transient change in its otherwise steady 90‐day oscillation in longitude.

…From the analysis of the reflectivity of the [Spot] and flakes and model simulations of the dynamics of the interactions we find that these events are likely to have been superficial, not affecting the full depth of the [Spot]. The interactions are not necessarily destructive but can transfer energy to the [Spot], maintaining it in a steady state and guaranteeing its long lifetime.

In other words, the changes seen only involved the Spot’s cloud tops, even if those tops were many miles thick. The storm itself is much deeper, with its base embedded strongly inside Jupiter and largely unaffected by these passing smaller storms.

Why the Spot exists and remains so long-lived remains an unsolved mystery.

Bumps and holes in the Martian mid-latitudes

Bumps and holes in the Martian mid-latitudes
Click for full image.

Today’s cool image to the right, taken on January 6, 2021 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and cropped and reduced to post here, focuses on what appears to be a volcanic bulge on the southeastern edge of the great Tharsis Bulge, home to Mars’ biggest volcanoes.

The terrain gives the appearance of hard and rough lava field, ancient and significantly scoured with time. The bumps and mounds suggest nodules that remained as the surrounding softer material eroded away. The holes suggest impact craters, but their relatively few number suggest that this ground was laid down in more recent volcanic events after the late heavy bombardment that occurred in the early solar system about 4 billion years ago. Since it is thought that the big Martian volcanoes stopped being active about a billion years ago, this scenario seems to fit.

However, the terrain also has hints of possible glacial features, as seen in the large crater-like depression in the image’s center. Below is a zoom in to that crater to highlight the flowlike features in its southern interior.
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