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Colorful mesa in the Martian northern lowland plains

Colorful mound in Martian northern lowland plains
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The photo to the right, rotated and cropped to post here and taken on January 15, 2021 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), shows the colorful top of a small mesa in the northern lowland plains of Mars and about 300 miles north of the planned landing zone for Europe’s Franklin rover, scheduled to launch in 2022.

What makes this mesa stand out is the bright and colorful areas on its slopes. The colors are false, but they indicate [pdf] certain things. The yellow is likely dust covered rock. The pinkish rock is also likely dust-covered, but made up of coarser material. The bluish strip running along the mesa’s northern slope is possibly frost or ice, not unlikely as this mound is at 25 degrees north latitude and was taken during winter. The slope faces north, which would put it in shadow much of the time during winter.

The colors however only hint at what is there.

Overview map

MRO context camera image of same area
Click for full image.

The location of today’s image is indicated by the black cross on the overview map to the right. An earlier captioned image of a similar mound to the south of this one, marked by the white cross, noted the same diversity of colors that suggest the existence of “diverse mineral compositions.”

Nor are these mesas unique. The wider view of this same area by MRO’s context camera to the right shows that there are numerous such bright mesas in this region. The black square marks the area covered by the first photo above.

The geological process that formed these mounds is at present not clearly understood. They could be made of material that is more resistant to erosion. Or maybe we are merely seeing the peaks of older larger mountains that over time became buried by ice and dust and debris.

Or maybe neither of these explanations is right. We just don’t have enough information.

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.

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