Alien world

Week Four: Ninth Anniversary Fund-Raising Drive for Behind the Black

The fourth week of my annual anniversary fund-raising campaign for Behind the Black has begun.

I once again must thank the many readers and listeners who have generously donated this month. Right now there is a chance this will be the best fund-raiser ever, though only if a lot of people donate during the month's last ten days. If you want to help me continue my reporting, you can give a one-time contribution, from $5 to $100, or a regular subscription for as little as $2 per month.

For one time donations via Paypal, click here:

To pick a subscription option via Paypal, click here:


If Paypal doesn't work for you, you can still support Behind The Black by sending your donation by check, payable to Robert Zimmerman, to
Behind The Black
c/o Robert Zimmerman
P.O.Box 1262
Cortaro, AZ 85652

Meridiani Planum
So what is it we are looking at in the image above? I have reduced the resolution slightly to fit it here, but you can see the full resolution image by clicking on the picture.

Is it a marble or granite kitchen counter? Nah, the surface is too rough.

Maybe it’s a modern abstract painting that we can find hanging in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Nah, it has too much style and depth. Abstract art is much more shallow and empty of content.

Could it be a close-up of a just-opened container of berry-vanilla ice cream, the different flavors swirling and intertwined to enhance the eating experience? No, somehow it looks too gritty for ice cream.

No, what we are looking at is close-up of exposed bedrock in an area on Mars called Meridiani Planum. From the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter website:

The Opportunity rover has spent 13 years exploring a small region of Meridiani Planum which has a rather ordinary appearance.

Other portions of Meridiani are much more interesting, with well-exposed layered bedrock eroded into strange patterns.

Opportunity's travels

Meridanii Planum is located on the equator due east of the giant canyons of Valles Marineris. It is a subsection region inside Arabia Terra, the largest of the transition zones between the lower elevation vast plains of the northern hemisphere and the higher elevation crater southern highlands.

The black cross in the image to the right shows where this picture was taken relative to the area that Opportunity has been exploring. Unfortunately, I do not have a scale for the image, but the difference in longitude between the image above and the area of Opportunity’s travels is about 10 degrees, at the equator. I searched the web but was unable to find a quick way to convert this to miles. Hopefully some of my very educated readers can figure it out.

They picked Opportunity’s landing site for its relatively flat terrain to ease the rover’s travels. Yet, in that same region is weird and very inexplicable geology as shown above.

Mars is a big place. It is also an alien place. Figuring out its geology will take several lifetimes of geologists, living on the planet.



  • Jim Davis

    Abstract art is much more shallow and empty of content.

    There is a show on National Geographic called “Genius” which covers the life of a genius each season. The first season covered Einstein. The current season covers Picasso. I just do not get why Picasso is considered a genius.

  • Laurie

    Hat tip to the Creator …

    … but I still say it looks like a lab experiment left unattended too long …

  • Ted

    It looks like something I washed down the disposal after being in the frig WAAAAY too long.

  • Michael Dean Miller


    Thirteen years of operation from a Rover designed for a 90 day mission?

    Well done, JPL, well done.


  • Andi

    You did ask, so here goes…

    Al Gore’s Amazing Internet reports that the diameter of Mars is 6792 km, or 4220 miles at the equator

    4220 * 3.14159 = 13258 miles circumference

    13258 * 10/360 = 368 miles in 10 degrees longitude at the equator

  • Andi: Thank you. That’s a decent estimate for this one circumstance, and is helpful.

  • Lee S

    @ Jim Davis, Picasso was a genuine artistic genius…. if you google his early work you will see the “regular” art of a true master….. it was only after proving his chops in the art world he moved on to develop cubism… which like it or hate it, changed the art landscape for ever…. the guy genuinely looked outside the box…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *