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Buried dying glacier in the Martian dry equatorial regions?

Buried glacial ice in dry equatorial regions?
Click for original image.

Today’s cool image from Mars is not so much unique visually as it is unique in terms of its location. The picture to the right, rotated, cropped, reduced, and sharpened to post here, was taken on January 31, 2023 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). It shows the northern rim of a small crater, with its floor filled with an intriguing mound of material.

The picture was labeled a “terrain sample”, which suggests it wasn’t taken as part of any specific research project by instead to fill a gap in the camera’s schedule. To maintain the camera’s proper temperature, it is necessary to take pictures regularly, and when the camera team finds a gap that is too long, they fill it by choosing some almost random target in that gap that might be interesting. Sometimes it is, sometimes not.

In this case I strongly suspect this target was hardly random. The picture title also mentions MRO’s now retired radar CRISM instrument, which was used to detect evidence of underground ice. My guess is that the camera team thus likely decided to image this crater in high resolution because that radar data suggested the presence of underground ice.

This guess is strongly confirmed by a context camera picture taken of this crater on September 1, 2008. The crater appears surrounded by the typical splash apron one routinely sees around impact craters in the mid- and high-latitude northern lowland plains, where there is a lot of near surface ice.

The bumpy mound seen in high resolution on the floor of this crater could very well be buried glacial ice, as it mimics similar features in the many craters in the mid-latitudes of Mars. But is it buried ice? The location says otherwise.

Overview map

The green dot in the southern part of Solus Planum marks the location of this crater, at 28 degrees south latitude. The location is not only on a vast volcanic flood plain, it is also in the dry equatorial regions where almost no near surface ice has been found.

If the material in the crater floor and the surrounding splash apron suggest near surface underground ice, this location will be one of the closest to the equator yet found. The material itself suggests that if there is any buried ice here, it is ancient and decaying.

It is also possible both the splash apron and the crater floor material is simply evidence of liquid flood lava now hardened in to stone. The impact might have hit the ground soon after that flood lava poured across this plain, when it was still somewhat soft and viscous. The result could thus be the splash apron and features in the crater floor that resemble glacial features.

For these reasons, I am sure a scientist on the MRO’s camera team is looking at this crater with great interest, hoping to solve this question.

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.


All editions are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all book vendors, with the ebook priced at $5.99 before discount. All editions can also be purchased direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit, in which case you don't support the big tech companies and the author gets a bigger cut much sooner.


Autographed printed copies are also available at discount directly from me (hardback $24.95; paperback $14.95; Shipping cost for either: $5.00). Just email me at zimmerman @ nasw dot org.

One comment

  • Max

    The walls have riblets in them consistent with lava (where A fluid, if not too viscous, would erode creating trenches)
    The mass that appears to be ice has a border around it consistent with contraction… Lava does not do this? (Mars is strange)
    The square and round boulder at the top of the glacier mass stands out in comparison with the rest of the picture.
    They are out of place. unique in size and composition.

    There appears to be a “cave opening” in the dark shaded area at the bottom of the glacier mass. It’s in the shape of a lipless mouth, but then it could be just a shadow?
    It’s position suggest the source of the darkened material.

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