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The cliff wall of ancient Martian lava channel

The cliff wall of an ancient Martian lava channel
Click for original image.

Cool image time! The picture to the right, cropped, reduced, and sharpened to post here, was taken on January 17, 2023 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) by the camera team not as part of any particular research project but in order to fill a gap in the camera’s schedule so as to maintain its proper temperature. In such cases the camera team tries to pick potentially interesting spots.

This cliff, about 1,100 feet high, is the north wall of a major volcano channel flowing across the Tharsis Bulge, the lava plains that surround Mars’ giant volcanoes. Located in the dry equatorial regions, there is no near surface ice here, but a lot of dust, much of it likely volcanic ash. In the full picture are several ancient craters, all of which are almost entirely buried by this dust and ash.

The cliff wall itself is made up of numerous layers, each representing a past volcanic flood lava event that covered this region with a new flow of material. These events occurred over more than a billion years.

Overview map

The white dot just to the east of the Claritis Fossae mountain and fissure chain marks this channel’s location. When it was active it appears to have vented from Claritis Fossae and flowed to the northeast to eventually flood out into Syria Planum.

None of Mars’ volcanoes are active at this time, and have mostly been inactive for more than a billion years. Once however the planet’s atmosphere and surface was shaped by them, when they belched material into the air and on the surrounding terrain, covering hundreds and hundreds of miles over and over again with new layers.

The scale of this process is what makes it so fascinating. We don’t simply see one event, we see multiple layers signaling numerous equally massive lava flood events, over a very long time. Mars was once a very different place, but not the wet and warm place many imagine, but a volcanic hellhole that over time calmed down and cooled.

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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