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.

Clashing layers in Mars’ largest canyon

Clashing layers on a mountain slope on Mars
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The photo to the right, rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here, was taken on May 27, 2021 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), and shows the clash of different layers on the western slope of a mountain within Mars’ largest canyon, Valles Marineris.

The scientist have labeled this a “possible angular unconformity.” In geology an unconformity generally refers to a gap in a series of layers, a period when instead of the layers being deposited they are being eroded away, leaving no record for that time period. An angular unconformity adds tilting to the older layers, which after erosion are then covered by new layers that are oriented somewhat differently.

Based on these definitions, what the scientists suspect is that the brighter layers to the left and lower down the mountain are older. After a period of erosion new layers were deposited on top at a different angle, forming the stripe of layers going from center left up to center right.

The swirly nature of the material on the top of the ridge suggests to me that these layers might be volcanic in nature, but that’s a pure uneducated guess. What some scientists do believe (but have not yet conclusively proven) is that the lower older layers are sediments laid down by an ancient lake that once filled the canyon here.

The overview map below provides a wider view and some context.

Overview map

The white box marks the location of this image. This particular part of Valles Marineris is also its widest, and is dubbed Melas Chasma.

From this mountain slope the rims of Valles Marineris are a hundred miles away in both directions. The canyon itself is about 29,000 feet deep at this point, which means if placed at the canyon’s bottom the peak of Mount Everest would still be below the rim.

This particular mountain is itself somewhere between 16,000 to 19,000 feet high. If it was in the U.S. it would be among the nation’s highest peaks.


I must unfortunately ask you for your financial support because I do not depend on ads and rely entirely on the generosity of readers to keep Behind the Black running. You can either make a one time donation for whatever amount you wish, or you sign up for a monthly subscription ranging from $2 to $15 through Paypal or $3 to $50 through Patreon.

Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.

Your support is even more essential to me because I not only keep this site free from advertisements, I do not use the corrupt social media companies like Google, Twitter, and Facebook to promote my work. I depend wholly on the direct support of my readers.

You can provide that support to Behind The Black with a contribution via Patreon or PayPal. To use Patreon, go to my website there and pick one of five monthly subscription amounts, or by making a one-time donation. For PayPal click one of the following buttons:


Or with a subscription with regular donations from your Paypal or credit card account:


If Patreon or Paypal don't work for you, you can support Behind The Black directly by sending your donation by check, payable to Robert Zimmerman, to

Behind The Black
c/o Robert Zimmerman
P.O.Box 1262
Cortaro, AZ 85652

Or you can donate by using Zelle through your bank. You will need to give my name and email address (found at the bottom of the "About" page). The best part of this electronic option is that no fees will be deducted! What you donate will be what I receive.

One comment

  • Ray Van Dune

    “The canyon itself is about 29,000 feet deep at this point, which means if placed at the canyon’s bottom the peak of Mount Everest would still be below the rim.”

    The generally accepted value for the height above sea level of Everest is 29,029 feet. I don’t mean to fuss over 29 whole feet, but you categorically state the peak would be below the rim, when it clearly would not be.

    True, there is much discussion about the height of various mountains as measured along their own flanks. For example by this standard, Mt. Chimborazo of Ecuador is often cited as the “tallest” mountain.

Readers: the rules for commenting!


No registration is required. I welcome all opinions, even those that strongly criticize my commentary.


However, name-calling and obscenities will not be tolerated. First time offenders who are new to the site will be warned. Second time offenders or first time offenders who have been here awhile will be suspended for a week. After that, I will ban you. Period.


Note also that first time commenters as well as any comment with more than one link will be placed in moderation for my approval. Be patient, I will get to it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *