Click for full image.
Cool image time! The image to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, shows a very typical glacial-type feature found frequently in the mid-latitudes of Mars. Taken on May 23, 2020 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), it is labeled a “Lobate Flow Feature within Channel in Nereidum Montes.” Nereidum Montes is a rough mountainous region along the northwestern margin of Argyre Basin, the second largest impact basin on Mars, after Hellas Basin.
Scientists using Europe’s Mars Express orbiter have already found a great deal of glacial evidence in these mountains. I have also posted images of other glacial features on the north edge of Argyre. This image just reinforces that data.
This particular glacier however resembles the kind of glaciers one sees on Earth more than most Martian glaciers. As it meanders down its valley, large cracks form near its edges as friction slows their passage and drags them apart. In fact, the glacier itself might have very well carved the canyon. According to Dan Berman, senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute in Arizona, who had requested this image,
While I can’t say for sure, the canyon was likely formed by a glacier. Whether or not the ice that remains today is part of that glacier, or one that formed later, is impossible to say.
The overview map to the right gives the larger context, with the white box showing the location of this photo.
At the canyon’s outlet the flow appears to be pushing into a large pond of ice. In fact, it sure looks like there is a lot of ice just below the surface in this lowland, covered by a debris layer to protect it from sublimating away. For example, the hollow to the west of this canyon appears filled with ice material, pushing right up to the cliffs on all sides. According to Berman,
Beyond the glacial lobe to the south, there are textures present that are likely representative of remnant ice. This is likely a deposit commonly referred to as the latitude dependent mantle, a mixture of ice and dust that drapes the mid latitudes. The glacier in the canyon may have formed from the flow of these deposits.
Mars is certainly turning out to be a very icy place, far different than imagined by early scientists and science fiction writers.
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