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On February 5, 2023 I will celebrate my 70th birthday. Yay! As I do every year during this birthday month, I run a campaign to raise money to support my work here at Behind The Black. I do not run ads. My only support comes from my readers, which leaves me utterly free to speak my mind openly about space, culture, and politics. Please consider supporting me in this work by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, in any one of the following ways:


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Many of Mars’ geological mysteries, all in one photo

Knobs, streaks, and lava channels on Mars
Click for full image.

Today’s cool image is fun because it contains a plethora of Martian mysteries, all packed into a very small space. The photo to the right was taken on April 29, 2021 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). I have rotated, cropped, and reduced it to post here.

The uncaptioned picture was labeled “Small Channel Winding between Knobs in Tartarus Colles.” The knobs, which can be seen on either side of the thin channel within the canyon, are actually a major Martian puzzle. Tartarus Colles has a lot of them, and planetary geologists are not really sure how they formed. One 2009 paper [pdf] suggested that the cones were formed by the violent interaction of lava and ice. This earlier paper [pdf] hypothesized that both water and lava had to be flowing over the surface at the same time, producing the steam and the energy that popped the lava cones, kind of like the small convection bubbles seen when tomato sauce simmers.

The scientific literature however is not deep, and there appears to be much uncertainty about this conclusion.

The photo however contains other major Martian puzzles.

For example, the canyon slopes on either side of the channel are filled with what look like either slope streaks or recurring slope lineae, both Martian features that are unique to the Red Planet. At first scientists thought that they were seeing some form of salt water brine seepage coming out of cliff faces. Now they are tending to favor the theory that some form of weird dust avalanches cause the streaks.

Neither theory is proven or accounts for all the facts.

Overview map

The channel itself is thought to be a flood lava flow, one of many that seem to cover the entire region between the two giant shield volcanoes Elsyium and Olympus Mons, shown on the overview map to the right. The white dot marks the location in Tartarus Colles of this image. The four red dots about five hundred miles to the north are the four prime candidate landing sites for SpaceX’s Starship spacecraft.

The latitude is 24 degrees north, placing this in Mars’ dry equatorial regions. Though lava therefore is the likely explanation for these flows and channels, not water, the specifics of the geology remain puzzling. The reason for a narrow inner channel within the larger one is unclear, though this is might be related to the fact that Martian lava moves much much faster than on Earth, due to the low gravity.

I am sure there are further mysteries buried in this single picture. The deeper you look, the more you will see.

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. The ebook can also be purchased direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit, in which case you don't support the big tech companies and I get 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.

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