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That ain’t snow on Mars

That ain't snow on Mars
Click for original image.

Today’s cool image proves once again that you must never too quickly jump to any conclusions when you first look at a picture from space. The photo to the right, cropped, reduced, and sharpened to post here, was taken on November 24, 2022 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).

At first glance it appears that those ridges are topped with patches of snow or frost. Not. What appears white in this black and white photo is immediately revealed to be light-colored dust in the color image.

According the label assigned to this image by the science team, these ridges represent layers, likely tilted steeply so that when exposed they form the layered cliff edges where that light dust has now gathered.

The overview map below provides further evidence that the white patches are dust, not snow.

Overview map

The white dot just north of the 30 degree latitude line marks the location of these ridges. As it sits on the inside edge of the dry equatorial regions of Mars, and also sits at a high elevation where things are also much dryer, this is further evidence suggesting that the patches are dust, not frost or snow.

These ridges are inside the cracked region dubbed Claritas Fossae, a land of many parallel north-south cracks and bulges that likely caused by the upward push of this whole volcanic landscape. The layers also probably represent different lava flood events from different volcanic eruptions, though the source of that lava is entirely uncertain.

One last detail: As the dust appears to favor the western sides of these ridges, it suggests the prevailing winds at this location, at this time, are from the west. Whether this climate pattern is long term, or recent, is of course unknown.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

The ebook is available everywhere for $5.99 (before discount) at amazon, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit. If you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and the author gets a bigger cut much sooner.

The audiobook is also available at all these vendors, and is also free with a 30-day trial membership to Audible.

"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs."--San Antonio Express-News

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