Cool image time! Buried in the catalog of recent high resolution images from Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter are places on Mars that are inexplicable and fascinating, while also indicative of its vastness. The image on the right, reduced in resolution and cropped to post here, shows us one such place. If you click on the image you can see the full image at high resolution.
The archive posting of this image is titled “Cones near Pits.” As you can see, to the north and east of the pits are some mesas (why they call them cones I do not know).
The pits are unusual, and appear to be some form of collapse. In the larger image several additional mesas can be seen at farther distances, but most of the overall terrain is remarkably flat and featureless, except for numerous small craters that appear either partly buried by dust or significantly eroded.
I am not going to guess at the geology that caused the pits and mesas. What I do want to focus on is the vastness of Mars. This location is on the southern edge of Utopia Basin, the second deepest basin on Mars. It is part of the planet’s endless northern plains, an immense region covering almost half the planet that tends to be at a lower elevation, is relatively smooth, and is thought by some scientists to be evidence of what was once an intermittent ocean. The global map of Mars below indicates the location of the above image with a black cross.
What is important is that the image was not inside Utopia Basin, but on its southern edge. The basin goes on and on for thousands of miles, and across its depth are scattered larger craters and similar mesas, as well as relatively featureless areas with little to recommend them, at first glance.
Most of the northern plains have not been imaged at high resolution. Its apparent featureless terrain does not attract interest, even though its geology might be as significant, especially because the lower elevation means the atmosphere is thicker and thus might be advantageous for future colony building.
Moreover, though it appears featureless, the image above shows that there can be hidden there strange geology and terrain as interesting as anything else on Mars. If you go to the archive for MRO’s high resolution camera, you can randomly explore the images that have been taken, and in doing so you will find a range of geology, all of which might have once been on the seafloor of an shallow Martian ocean, but all of which reflects geology below the ground, some of which might be very valuable to future settlers.
The universe is vast. There are spectacular things to see that are easy to spot. There are also many hidden spectacular things in places like Utopia Basin, that will take gumption, determination, and an explorer’s obsession to find.
I am envious of the future generations who will have the chance to make those discoveries, once we have the technology to make travel to these places practical.
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