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Twisted taffy in the basement of Mars

Taffy on Mars
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The photo to the right, taken on March 7, 2021 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and cropped and reduced to post here, shows us an example of one of Mars’ strangest and most puzzling geological features, dubbed banded or “taffy-pull” terrain by scientists.

Taffy-pull terrain has so far only been found within Hellas Basin, Mars’ deepest impact basin and what I like to call the basement of Mars. Because of the lower crater count in this terrain scientists consider it relatively young, no more than 3 billion years old, according to this 2014 paper, which also notes

The apparent sensitivity to local topography and preference for concentrating in localized depressions is compatible with deformation as a viscous fluid.

At the moment what that viscous fluid was remains a matter of debate. Many theories propose that ice and water acting in conjunction with salt caused their formation, similar to salt domes seen on Earth. Other propose that the terrain formed from some kind of volcanic or impact melt process.

Almost all of the taffy terrain on Mars has been found in the deepest parts of Hellas Basin in a curved trough along its western interior, as shown by the light blue areas in the overview map below.

Overview map

The white cross marks where this particular image is located, well to the east of the deepest parts of Hellas Basin where much of this taffy terrain is found.

This region however is also close to the glacial features found frequently in the canyons of Dao and Harmakhis, thus adding weight to the possibility that water was involved in forming this taffy.

Who knows? I can tell you that in reviewing several science papers devoted expressly to these features, the scientists don’t. For example, this 2016 paper (from which I obtained the light blue map of taffy terrain on my overview map) reviews all the hypotheses, and while it favors some, it shows no enthusiasm for any. None seem to answer all the questions.

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

 
Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.

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