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Bright-tipped perplexing terrain on Mars

Perplexing terrain on Mars
Click for full image.

The photo to the right, rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here, was taken by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) on June 24, 2020, and shows a bit of inexplicable country in Arabia Terra, the widest and largest transition zone region on Mars between the northern lowland plains and southern cratered highlands.

The stuff visible in this image falls into what I call “What the heck?” geology. It is very clear we are looking at a collection of straight and curved ridges and mesas, all of which for some reason are bright at their tips and edges. Some of the curved ridges might be the rims of craters, but only some. Other ridge lines look more like leftovers following a strange erosion process. The problem is that to my uneducated eye I can find little rhyme or reason to these shapes. The mesas and canyon on the image’s right edge might be explained by the erosion processes that create chaos terrain on Mars, but that process does not do a good job of explaining anything else in the photo.

That this uncaptioned image is merely labeled “Arabia Terra” suggests that the scientists involved in getting this image were equally perplexed by it, and could not give it a better description.

The overview map below provides some location context, including how this geology relates to the landing site of Europe’s Rosalind Franklin rover, now scheduled for a 2022 launch.

Overview map

The red square indicates the location of this photo. About 600 miles to the southwest is the planned landing site for Rosalind Franklin, in a location dubbed Oxia Planum. Interestingly, images in Oxia Planum show the same bright edges, even though the two sites are a considerable distance apart.

Conscious Choice cover

Now available in hardback and paperback as well as ebook!


From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.


“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.


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  • Terrence

    My best guess, is the whole terrain is light colored and is covered by dark dust. The dark dust is blown off the steep tops of the terrain.

  • George

    Reminds me of the gypsum layers of the Caprock in western Texas/ eastern New Mexico, as they are exposed by erosion. Might there be limestone on Mars? Opens up a whole new can of worms, so to speak.

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