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An ice-covered mountain on Mars?

Ice-covered mountain on Mars?
Click for full image.

Grinnell Crater in Glacier National Park in 2017

Today’s cool image, taken on July 1, 2020 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, is of a mound-like mountain on Mars that to all intents and purposes appears covered by glacial ice, some eroded, some not.

The image to the right, rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here, shows this mound. Both the flow coming down from the mountain top down the north slope as well as the flow in the north that appears to begin in a small crater suggest glacial features.

Even more convincing are what appear to be patches of glacial ice on the southern slopes, resembling the kind of glacial patches you see everywhere in Glacial National Park. The second photo to the right, taken by me on our visit to Glacier National Park in 2017, shows similar patches hugging the mountainside at Grinnell Glacier.

This Martian mountain is located in the southern hemisphere inside Hellas Basin on its eastern interior rim. (See the overview map below, with the location of this photo the small white box south of Harmakhis Valles.) Thus, you would expect the north-facing slope to get more sunlight (and more heat) than the south-facing slopes. Yet, from this image there appears to be greater erosion on the south-facing slopes. A puzzle indeed.

Overview map

I have previously posted other images of glacial-like features in the region around Harmakhis Valles and Reull Valles. See:

All show, as today’s image does, what look like typical glaciers flowing down mountains’ slopes.

Close-up of mound's peak

What makes today’s mound however even more intriguing are the features at its peak. The photo to the right focuses on the area in the white box in the first image above, at full resolution.

Up close the glacial-like nature of the patches on the southern slope is even more evident. More fascinating however are the swirls and layers at the peak. They are suggestive of many layers of glaciers, placed down, one on top of the other, during many past climate cycles, that are now being exposed due to erosion and sublimation.

This pattern also suggests that once on Mars there was more water for making ice. Once, this mountain was entirely covered with many layers at its peak. Recent climate cycles however have not produced enough new ice here during colder periods at this location to rebuild those mountaintop glaciers. Thus, wind erosion and later warm cycles have worn those layers away, exposing them.

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On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

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  • Jeff

    If there are so many glaciers sublimating away, wouldn’t we be able to detect signs of excess hydrogen/oxygen in the atmosphere, no matter how thin? I realize the current average temperature on Mars is very cold and sublimation may have slowed before we had instruments capable of such measurements. Has there been any recent evidence of such changes in the Martian atmosphere during the summer/winter swing around the Sun? Or are the current slate of instruments on and around the planet not sensitive enough?

    As always, thanks for the Cool Images and the mind exercises.

  • Richard Aubrey

    Where’s the beauty, calm, and couth?

  • Rob

    Mars’ glaciers are melting? How did we do that?

    I thought anthropogenic climate change was only on Earth?

    …it’s almost as if our common variable (the sun) is the true source of climate change.

  • George True

    Based on the 500 foot scale on the lower right corner, the area in the white box would be slightly more than one square mile of Martian terrain. It is amazing how crisp and clear this photo is, even at full resolution. And it certainly does look like ice at the base of the escarpment.

    So with the Mars Reconnisance Orbiter’s ability to take high resolution photos like this, it makes me wonder why we have so far seen no high resolution photos of the Face on Mars and some of the other ‘interesting’ features at Cydonia, such as what appears to be a gigantic four-sided pyramid. If NASA is so convinced it is all nothing, then how about some high-res photos from MRO to prove it?

  • George True: One of the first pictures taken by MRO’s high resolution camera was of the face on Mars. See:

    Taken in 2007.

    It is a mesa, pure and simple.

    If you review all the images in the Cydonia region, you will find none of the “alien” foolishness pushed by uneducated media types. It is all geology, though sometimes unusual and different than anything we see on Earth.

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