Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.

A Martian cliff

A strange Martian cliff
Click for full image.

Many features on Mars immediately make one think of the Grand Canyon and the stark dramatic geology of the American southwest. Today’s cool image on the right, cropped and reduced to post here, is a typical example. Photographed on September 7, 2021 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), it shows a dramatic cliff face that I estimate is about 3,000 feet high.

A closer look, however, almost always shows that this Martian terrain is not like the American southwest at all, but alien in its own way.

At the base of this abrupt cliff the terrain suddenly changes to a series of smooth downward fan-shaped flows. The cliff evokes rough boulders, avalanches, and chaotic erosion. The fans evoke a gentle and organized erosion of small particles like dust or sand. The two processes are completely different, and yet here the former is butted right up against the latter.

The fans also appear to flow out of hollows in the rough cliff, suggesting that somehow as the cliff erodes in chunks those chunks break into sand or dust, find the lowest points, and then flow downward like liquid.

How strange. How Martian. And how truly beautiful.


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  • pawn

    What a great shot! Thanks Bob.

  • Alternatively, or additionally, could not material from the upper plateau spill down the crevices? Geology seems to happen slowly on Mars, due to temperature and gravity.

  • pawn

    I’ve been looking at this incredibly alien landscape for a while. Things like this awe me. One of the reasons I come here is to get my fix of alien inspired awe.

    And the tiny little mysteries that I will never understand, like that little bright “ball” on the “beach” in the lower left. All by itself. Looks like it rolled down a hill of low-g quicksand.

    My, my……

  • Daniel Kaczynski

    I must say I really enjoy these cool and very compelling images. In spite of all
    our earthly troubles, it is good to be reminded that there is an entire solar system
    for us to explore, just waiting for us!
    Let me throw in my 2 cents worth: if you look just below the top edge of the cliff
    there appear to be darker bands of material running lengthwise. Is this some kind
    of sedimentary rock? “Sandstone?” Even if the bedrock here is volcanic, consider that
    on Earth, pumice is very light weight and crumbly.
    My conjecture is that no matter how imposing this cliff may appear, the material
    of which it is made is rather insubstantial and erosion causes it to crumble directly
    into fine sand or dust.
    And thank you, pawn, for pointing out that “beach ball.” Some Martian kids were
    probably playing volleyball and lost it. Their parents will be upset that they lost an
    expensive toy.

  • David M. Cook

    Perhaps the rough cliff is NOT eroding, and the fans are just sand/dust that was blown off the top & fell into place, rather than making a dune pile. This would explain the lack of large debris at the base of the fans.

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