Click for original image.
Cool image time! The picture to the right, cropped to post here, was taken on June 21, 2023 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).
The scientists label the strange tubelike features that are scattered throughout this picture as “landforms,” which is correctly vague because their origin is utterly inexplicable. The ground here is on the eastern slope of a small 20-mile-wide very flat shield volcano located about 150 miles northwest of the giant volcano Ascraeus Mons. The dark wind streaks point down that grade to the east, away from the shield volcano’s peak about 1,000 feet away. (If you look at the full image this indistinct peak is at dead center, with a linear depression (the volcano’s vent) beginning there and heading to the northeast for about four miles.)
Why these many tubes are all oriented in a northwest-southwest direction, at right angles to the slope, is baffling, especially because they hold to that same orientation all across the shield volcano, no matter the downward direction of the slope.
On the overview map to the right the small box in the inset marks the location of the picture above. The inset comes from a global mosaic made from MRO’s context camera images. I have increased its constrast to better bring out the shield volcano. The dark areas are not as dark as they appear here, and are caused by wind likely blowing the light dust away to reveal the darker flood lava below.
It is very clear from that context camera mosaic that lava flowed downward in all directions from that central vent. Yet somehow these tubelike features formed on top of the lava, or were there beforehand and not covered by it. Yet, if they form the top of buried topographical features why are they all the same height? One would think that the tubes lower down on the slopes would stick higher up above the lava. They do not.
The tubes themselves remind me of cave limestone features that I have seen sometimes on the sides of flowstone. The cave formations however always point uphill, on a vertical slope. The tubes here do not.
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