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The frozen and changing mid-latitudes of Mars

Glacial erosion on Mars
Click for full image.

Using “frozen” and “changing” to describe any single location might seem contradictory, but when it comes to the mid-latitudes of Mars, high resolution images keep telling us that both often apply, at the same time and at the same place.

The photo to the right, rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here, is a typical example. Taken on May 8, 2020 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), it shows what the scientists label as “mesas and ridges.” Drainage is to the south, and it sure looks like some sort of glacial flow is working its way downward within the canyons between those mesas.

Overall the terrain has the appearance of a frozen ice sheet, or at least terrain that has a shallow ice table close to the surface. It also looks like chaos terrain in its infancy, the erosion process not yet cutting down enough to make the mesas stand out fully.

The location of these mesas and ridges is shown in the context map below, which also shows that this location is at the same latitude as SpaceX’s Starship prime Martian landing site, and only about 400 to 500 miles to the east.

Overview map

The red rectangle north of Olympus Mons indicates this image’s location. The white and black rectangles indicate images requested by SpaceX for Starship. The numbers refer to specific images, with links to each found here.

At this latitude scientists have found on Mars ample evidence of glaciers, in both the north and south hemispheres. In this region however there is also evidence that there is a ice table very close to the surface. Today’s image gives another example.

Other images of this knobby region on the edge of the northern lowland plains of Arcadia Planitia further reinforce this impression. MRO has taken two other high resolution photos, each less than ten miles to the east and west. The eastern image, dubbed “Fluvial Dissection and Erosion” by the scientists, shows similar canyons and ridges.

Mars at this latitude appears much like Antarctica, a frozen ice sheet that unlike Antarctica is likely covered by a layer of debris and dust, protecting and hiding that ice. It is also a place, like Antarctica, where that ice is flowing like water, albeit in extreme slow motion.

There is plenty of time, however, for this ice to work its magic. It increasingly appears that the ice itself, as glaciers, has acted to shape much of the surface geological features on Mars, many of which at first glance appeared to us Earthbound humans to be meandering river channels. This theory remains unproven, but it fits the facts better than liquid water, which based on what we presently know simply could not have flowed in the thin and cold Martian atmosphere.

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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 available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all book vendors. The ebook can 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. Note that the price for the ebook, $3.99, goes up to $5.99 on September 1, 2022.

 

Autographed printed copies are also available at discount directly from me (hardback $24.95; paperback $14.95). Just email me at zimmerman @ nasw dot org.

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