Ice, lava, quakes, and faults, all in one Martian image

A lot of geology in one picture
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The photo to the right, rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here, was taken by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) on April 25, 2021. It grabbed my attention because it possibly captures a whole range of Martian geological processes, all in one place, including evidence of quakes, of lava, of faults, and possibly of glaciers.

First, ignore the black rectangle, which is merely a small section of lost data.

The picture itself shows a wide north-south fissure, as indicated by the distinct western cliff and the fainter and less pronounced eastern cliff. This fissure, likely formed along a fault, was created when the crust was pushed and stretched upward by the pressure of underground volcanic magma, part of the long series of eruptions that formed the many similar and parallel north-south fissures south of the shield volcano Alba Mons.

The overview map below illustrates this fissure’s relationship with Alba Mons.
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Global dust storm on Mars brought on an early spring in southern hemisphere

Scientists analyzing the climate effects from the 2018 global dust storm on Mars have found that while it did little to change the seasons in the northern hemisphere, it caused winter to end early in southern hemisphere.

The team found that the 2018 storm had profoundly different effects in each hemisphere. At the south pole, where the vortex was almost destroyed, temperatures rose and wind speeds fell dramatically. While the vortex may have already been starting to decay due to the onset of spring, the dust storm appears to have had a decisive effect in ending winter early.

The northern polar vortex, by contrast, remained stable and the onset of autumn followed its usual pattern. However, the normally elliptical northern vortex was changed by the storm to become more symmetrical. The researchers link this to the high dust content in the atmosphere suppressing atmospheric waves caused by the extreme topography in the northern hemisphere, which has volcanoes over twice as tall as Mount Everest and craters as deep as terrestrial mountains.

These differences are likely also related to the eccentricity in the Martian orbit around the Sun, which is greater than that of Earth and actually has a direct effect on its seasons. As noted in this recently published paper about the activity scientists have now documented on the Martian surface in the past decade,

Because perihelion (the closest approach to the Sun) currently occurs [during summer in the south], southern hemisphere seasons are more extreme, with a longer winter and shorter, warmer summer

This difference is probably a major factor explaining the different effects of the global dust storm. It also is probably why the Red Planet’s two polar ice caps are so different.

This difference between the two hemispheres will also likely help drive the intitial human settlement on Mars to the north. Not only does the northern hemisphere have the flat lowland plains, making those first difficult landings easier and safer, it has a more benign climate year round.

Scientists refine Martian interior based on quakes detected by InSight

Martian quake map as seen by InSight

Scientists today published three studies in the journal Science outlining their conclusions about the interior of Mars, based on the quakes that have been detected by InSight since it arrived on Mars in November 2018.

Reporting in a trio of studies published in the July 23rd Science, the Insight science team has now analyzed about 10 marsquakes to make the first direct observations of the structure within another rocky planet. The results — a surprisingly thin crust, an undifferentiated mantle, and a larger-than-expected core — will help determine how Mars formed and evolved.

There results are essentially what was described in April by the InSight science team at the annual 52nd Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (and reported here but no where else), though now more carefully and thoroughly described.

The discovery that the Martian crust is much thinner than expected, either 12 or 24 miles thick, with a core that is still liquid, has ramifications that might help explain both the planet’s formation and its volcanic history and giant volcanoes.

One piece of good engineering news in connection with the lander InSight:

Despite a dust-fueled energy crisis earlier this year, the solar-powered lander has since regained some power-generating capacity. “We are at least safe for this season’s winter and probably far into 2022,” Stähler says.

The wind-swept volcanic ash plains of Mars

Overview map

Cool image time! In Mars’ volcano country lies the planet’s largest ash deposit, dubbed the Medusae Fossae Formation. Scientists believe that this gigantic deposit, with a size comparable to the nation of India, was laid down by muliple volcanic eruptions over several billion years and is the source of most of the dust seen on the Red Planet.

The overview map on the right shows the location of this ash deposit on Mars. The white cross indicates the location of today’s cool image, found below.
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It’s drill time for Perseverance!

The Perservance science team is preparing the rover for its first drill hole and the first collection of a sample to cache so that a future spacecraft can return it to Earth.

They are presently at the general location where they wish to drill, and are looking for the exact right spot.

The sampling sequence begins with the rover placing everything necessary for sampling within reach of its 7-foot (2-meter) long robotic arm. It will then perform an imagery survey, so NASA’s science team can determine the exact location for taking the first sample, and a separate target site in the same area for “proximity science.”

“The idea is to get valuable data on the rock we are about to sample by finding its geologic twin and performing detailed in-situ analysis,” said science campaign co-lead Vivian Sun, from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “On the geologic double, first we use an abrading bit to scrape off the top layers of rock and dust to expose fresh, unweathered surfaces, blow it clean with our Gas Dust Removal Tool, and then get up close and personal with our turret-mounted proximity science instruments SHERLOC, PIXL, and WATSON.”

“After our pre-coring science is complete, we will limit rover tasks for a sol, or a Martian day,” said Sun. “This will allow the rover to fully charge its battery for the events of the following day.”

Sampling day kicks off with the sample-handling arm within the Adaptive Caching Assembly retrieving a sample tube, heating it, and then inserting it into a coring bit. A device called the bit carousel transports the tube and bit to a rotary-percussive drill on Perseverance’s robotic arm, which will then drill the untouched geologic “twin” of the rock studied the previous sol, filling the tube with a core sample roughly the size of a piece of chalk.

Perseverance’s arm will then move the bit-and-tube combination back into bit carousel, which will transfer it back into the Adaptive Caching Assembly, where the sample will be measured for volume, photographed, hermetically sealed, and stored. The next time the sample tube contents are seen, they will be in a clean room facility on Earth, for analysis using scientific instruments much too large to send to Mars.

Not all drill samples will be cached in this manner.

With this press release and press conference NASA continued to push the fiction to the press that Perservance’s prime mission is to search for life. That is a lie designed to catch the interest of ignorant journalists who don’t know anything. The rover’s real mission is to study the overall Martian geology in Jezero Crater in order to better under the planet’s present geology as well as the geological history that made it look like it does today.

If the scientists using Perseverance find evidence of life, wonderful, but that is not their prime goal.

Another “What the heck?” photo from Mars

Isolated clump of mounds on Mars
Click for full image.

The cool image to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, was taken a decade ago, on August 25, 2011, by the context camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), It shows a flat plain with a sudden clump of mounds or hills at the center.

This is one of those pictures from Mars which I like to call a “What the heck?” image. What caused the mounds, and why are they found only in this concentrated clump, with the rest of the terrain around them generally flat?

Though the context image was taken a decade ago, no follow-up high resolution images were taken of this area until very recently.

Below is the one recent high resolution image taken by MRO on May 12, 2021, cropped and reduced to show the bottom half of the mound clump as shown by the white box. It makes the mystery even more puzzling.
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Ice-filled craters in Mars’ glacier country?

Craters in Protonilus Mensae
Click for full image.

Today’s cool image returns us to the chaos region dubbed Protonilus Mensae, the middle of three adjacent mensae regions in the northern hemisphere that I like to dub Mars’ glacier country because there is so much evidence of buried ice there.

The photo to the right, cropped to post here, was taken on May 31, 2021 by the high resolution camera of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). Titled “Layered Feature in Crater in Protonilus Mensae,” the section I have posted focuses on several craters, with the one with the central mesa likely the picture’s target. Based on many similar features found in craters in this region, it is somewhat safe to assume that this mesa is made of buried ice.

The overview map below as always provides the context.
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Cracks, chaos, and maybe caves in one place on Mars

Mosaic of Avernus Cavi fissures
Click for higher resolution. Original images found here and here.

Today’s cool image to the right is a mosaic I have made from two images taken by the context camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), showing a most intriguing region on Mars dubbed Avernus Cavi, located in the large volcanic plain called Elysium Planitia between the giant volcanoes Elysium Mons and Olympus Mons, a region I like to call Mars’ volcano country.

The mosaic shows in one picture much of the typical terrain in Avernus Cavi. We see many linear depressions or cracks, created when the ground stretched and cracked at weak points. We also see many depressions that suggest sinkholes, places where the surface sagged down because of a void below ground.

The area of knobs and mesas in the picture’s southeast quadrant is very typical Martian chaos terrain, the later result of long term erosion of these cracks and depressions.

The white box shows the area covered by the image below.
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The lacy rocks of Mars

Lacy rocks on Mars
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The image to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, was taken on July 16, 2021 by the Mars rover Curiosity, using its high resolution mast camera.

There isn’t much to say. These are alien rocks, created in a place with a gravity only about a third that of Earth’s in a climate that is very different. Their delicate nature suggests we are looking at something that was once more substantial and has since been undergoing erosion.

Nor has it been that unusual to find rocks so dainty on Mars. In fact, the more Curiosity has climbed, the more such things have been visible. And similar things were seen by the rovers Spirit and Opportunity.

How such rocks formed initially in the far past, under what climate conditions, remains the number one mystery on Mars. What is now causing it to flake away into such a finespun gossamer of complexity is as much a mystery, tied more to the climate and geology of Mars today.

This rock sits on the bottom flank of Mt Sharp in Gale Crater, at the highest elevation Curiosity has yet climbed. At this point the rover has just entered a new geological unit, what scientists have dubbed the sulfate unit. The evidence gathered from a distance (that so far appears confirmed by recent observations) suggest that this unit was formed under a fluctuating environment that laid down many layers of sediment as conditions ebbed and flowed.

First attempts to map the layered geology of Mars

layers in Jiji Crater on Mars
Click for full image.

Today’s cool image illustrates well the central task of much of today’s geological research on Mars, using the orbital images to try to map out the visible geological layers seen, and figure out if those layers mark over wide regions specific geological epochs, as they do on Earth.

The photo to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, was taken on May 4, 2021 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), and featured on July 12th as a captioned image entitled “Layers Blanket a Crater Floor.” From the caption:

This image shows a layered rock formation within Jiji Crater that has eroded into buttes and stair-like layers.

This formation extends west and east. Similar layered rocks are within several craters in Arabia Terra and Meridiani Planum, including [nearby] Sera and Banes craters. The similarities suggest that the same process was forming deposits over a large geographic area long ago. Our image also indicates that much of the formation has eroded away relative to what has remained.

As you can see in the photo, the layers form a neat staircase of terraces descending from the south crater rim to the crater floor. They suggest that once the crater was filled with this material, which over time eroded away.

An image of similar layered buttes and mesas in Sera crater, only about 20 miles away, was featured here on Behind the Black in December 2020 The overview map below shows the relationship between Jiji, Sera, and Banes craters.
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Craters on Ganymede’s striped surface

Craters on Ganymede
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The photo to the right, cropped to post here, is a color enhanced section taken from of one of the images taken by Juno when it did a close fly-by of the Jupiter moon Ganymede back on June 7, 2021.

The enhancement was done by citizen scientist Navaneeth Krishnan, using a wider Juno image of Ganymeded enhanced by citizen scientist Kevin Gill. That wider image is below, and marks the area covered by this first image with a white box.

In this one picture we can see many of the geological mysteries that have puzzled scientists since the Galileo orbiter first took close-up images back in the 1990s. We can see patches of grooved terrain with the grooves in the different patches often oriented differently. We can also see bright and dark patches that while they overlay the grooved terrain they bear no correspondence to those grooved patches. And on top of it all are these small craters, impacts that obviously occurred after the formation of the grooves.
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Clashing layers in Mars’ largest canyon

Clashing layers on a mountain slope on Mars
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The photo to the right, rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here, was taken on May 27, 2021 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), and shows the clash of different layers on the western slope of a mountain within Mars’ largest canyon, Valles Marineris.

The scientist have labeled this a “possible angular unconformity.” In geology an unconformity generally refers to a gap in a series of layers, a period when instead of the layers being deposited they are being eroded away, leaving no record for that time period. An angular unconformity adds tilting to the older layers, which after erosion are then covered by new layers that are oriented somewhat differently.

Based on these definitions, what the scientists suspect is that the brighter layers to the left and lower down the mountain are older. After a period of erosion new layers were deposited on top at a different angle, forming the stripe of layers going from center left up to center right.

The swirly nature of the material on the top of the ridge suggests to me that these layers might be volcanic in nature, but that’s a pure uneducated guess. What some scientists do believe (but have not yet conclusively proven) is that the lower older layers are sediments laid down by an ancient lake that once filled the canyon here.

The overview map below provides a wider view and some context.
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Ingenuity’s view of Jezero Crater during its 9th flight

Ingenuity looks across Jezero Crater
Click for full image.

Overview map
Click for interactive map.

Cool image time! The photo above, cropped, enhanced, and reduced to post here, was taken on July 5, 2021, about thirty seconds after Ingenuity had taken off on its 9th flight on Mars. I have increased the contrast slightly to bring out the features. This is a raw image, so I do not think the colors are accurate, and I also do not know why the middle of the image is brighter than the edges.

The red lines on the map to the right indicates the general area this image captures. Essentially, once the helicopter reached its flying altitude after liftoff the engineers had it tilt so that it could see the route it was about to take to the southwest. As they noted in their description of this flight,

We began by dipping into what looks like a heavily eroded crater, then continued to descend over sloped and undulating terrain before climbing again to emerge on a flat plain to the southwest.

I think that crater is visible on the left edge of this picture.

So far 180 raw images from Ingenuity have arrived at JPL. There might be a few more, but I think this is the bulk from the flight. Of these, all but nine are black and white and point straight down. The nine color images seem tilted up towards the horizon to various degrees, though the image above is the only one that captures the horizon itself and the distance mountains of Jezero Crater’s rim.

Curiosity looks across at the alien landscape of Gale Crater

Curiosity's view across Gale Crater
Click for full image.

Most of the images from Curiosity that I have posted recently have been of the spectacular mountain scenery looking south at Mount Sharp itself. Today’s cool image, taken on July 6, 2021 by the rover’s right navigation camera and cropped to post here, instead looks north, out across the floor of Gale Crater to its distant rim about twenty miles away.

The rover is likely not to move for a week or so, as it has just completed drilling its first drillhole since it moved up into the next geological layer, dubbed the sulfate unit. Because of this they have been using the rover’s cameras to take a lot of pictures of the surrounding terrain, including several high resolution mosaics.

The two overview maps below show what the cool image above is looking at.
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Update on Ingenuity’s 9th flight

Ingenuity's 9th flight
Click for interactive map

Ingenuity’s engineering team late yesterday posted an update on the helicopter’s successful 9th flight on July 5th, describing in detail the changes they made to their software that made the challenging flight possible.

The changes were required because the helicopter flew for the first time over much rougher terrain then initially planned, as shown by the map to the right.

Flight 9 was not like the flights that came before it. It broke our records for flight duration and cruise speed, and it nearly quadrupled the distance flown between two airfields. But what really set the flight apart was the terrain that Ingenuity had to negotiate during its 2 minutes and 46 seconds in the air – an area called “Séítah” that would be difficult to traverse with a ground vehicle like the Perseverance rover. This flight was also explicitly designed to have science value by providing the first close view of major science targets that the rover will not reach for quite some time.

In other words, Ingenuity flew for the first time over terrain that Perseverance cannot drive to, recording images from above of surface features beyond the rover’s range.

We began by dipping into what looks like a heavily eroded crater, then continued to descend over sloped and undulating terrain before climbing again to emerge on a flat plain to the southwest.

The images of that rough terrain have not yet been downloaded to Earth, but will be in the next week.

Springtime on Martian dunes near the north pole

Dunes near the Martian north pole, in the spring

Cool image time! The photo to the right, rotated and cropped to post here, was taken by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) on April 27, 2021. It shows a strange scattering of dunes on a flat plain. The red at the top of each dune probably indicates exposed dust and sand. The white fringe is likely either water frost or the leftover mantle of dry ice that is deposited in the polar regions each winter down to 60 degrees latitude, and disappears with the coming of spring, sublimating back into carbon dioxide gas.

There are a lot of puzzles here. The overview map below provides some context, but only some.
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Perseverance’s most recent view of Jezero Crater

Panorama by Perseverance, Sol 130, July 2, 2021
Click for full resolution.

Overview map
Click for interactive map.

Cool image time! The panorama above, reduced to post here, is made from two navigation camera images on the Mars rover Perseverance, found here and here.

The map to the right, taken from the “Where is Perseverance?” website and annotated further by me, shows with the yellow lines what I think (but am not sure) is the area seen in the panorama.

The navigation cameras on Perseverance are more wide angle than the navigation cameras on Curiosity, in order to cover a larger area. They thus produce a slight fisheye distortion, illustrated by the curve of the horizon.

The large mountain in the center right is likely the crater rim. You can also see the knobs to the left as indicated on the overview map. The rover is now about halfway to the southernmost planned spot it is expected to reach within the floor of Jezero Crater, which is about a half to three quarters of a mile further south.

The terrain seems quite desolate and barren, which of course is no surprise, because that is what it is like on all of the surface of Mars. No plant life, just rocks and dirt. While Curiosity is now in the mountains, Perseverance remains on the crater floor, so the points of interest (from the mere tourist’s perspective) are small or far away.

Paisley terrain on Mars

paisley terrain on Mars
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The photo to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, is actually a somewhat old image from the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). It was taken more than a decade ago, on December 28, 2010, and featured as a captioned image one month later. I post it now because it was recently featured as MRO’s picture of the day, and thought it deserved a new look. As the caption from 2010, written by planetary scientist Alfred McEwen, noted,

Remember those paisley shirts during the summer of love in 1967? If so, this terrain may look somewhat familiar.

How did this terrain really form? One theory is that it’s a landslide deposit, perhaps associated with draining an ancient lake.

The overview map below might help make sense of this theory.
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China releases more images & videos from Zhurong

Zhurong panorama looking north, June 27, 2021
Click for full image.

Overview map
Click for full image.

China today released a new panorama as well as several videos taken by its Mars rover Zhurong.

The videos show the rover’s landing as well as two short videos taken from the remote camera it had dropped off shortly after deployment from its lander, the first showing the rover moving away and the second showing it turning in place.. China also released sound recorded during that deployment, as the rover rolled down the ramps. The sound was of course enhanced, but it does allow scientists to learn something about the atmosphere of Mars.

The image above is a cropped section from the panorama. The map to the right, taken on June 11th by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), has been annotated by me to show the area I think is seen by this section of that panorama, looking due north. (For a higher resolution version that clearly shows the rover’s tracks since leaving the lander, go here.)

Many of Mars’ geological mysteries, all in one photo

Knobs, streaks, and lava channels on Mars
Click for full image.

Today’s cool image is fun because it contains a plethora of Martian mysteries, all packed into a very small space. The photo to the right was taken on April 29, 2021 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). I have rotated, cropped, and reduced it to post here.

The uncaptioned picture was labeled “Small Channel Winding between Knobs in Tartarus Colles.” The knobs, which can be seen on either side of the thin channel within the canyon, are actually a major Martian puzzle. Tartarus Colles has a lot of them, and planetary geologists are not really sure how they formed. One 2009 paper [pdf] suggested that the cones were formed by the violent interaction of lava and ice. This earlier paper [pdf] hypothesized that both water and lava had to be flowing over the surface at the same time, producing the steam and the energy that popped the lava cones, kind of like the small convection bubbles seen when tomato sauce simmers.

The scientific literature however is not deep, and there appears to be much uncertainty about this conclusion.

The photo however contains other major Martian puzzles.
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A sample of typical but strange Martian northern lowland plain geology

Typical lowland features on Mars
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The photo to the right, rotated, cropped and reduced to post here, was taken on April 18, 2021 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). It shows a nice sample of the typical glacial-filled craters found often in the mid-latitudes between 30 to 60 degree latitudes, surrounded by a lot of erosion features representative of these lowland northern plains.

The biggest crater is very symptomatic of what scientists have dubbed concentric crater fill, a feature that they believe reveals that there is buried ice water glaciers here, protected by a thin layer of debris. The apron of brighter material surrounding the crater could be a splash feature created during impact and now more obvious because it has been revealed as sublimation and erosion lowered the terrain nearby.

The location is north of the Cydonia region in Acidalia Planitia, several thousand miles to the northeast of the region where Viking 1 landed in 1976 and Mars Pathfinder landed in 1997, as shown in the overview map below.
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A confused river of ice on Mars

A river of ice on Mars
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The photo to the right, rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here, was taken on March 4, 2021 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). It shows what MRO’s science team labeled a “Landform in Source Region of Harmakhis Vallis.”

They are being very correct and careful with that label. The landform here is quite clearly reminiscent of a glacier, but because they don’t yet have confirmation of its watery nature, as good scientists they can’t call it that.

I however am a mere journalist, so I am free to speculate more wildly. Sure looks like glaciers to me, the ice flowing downhill from the left to the right and flowing around that central mound.

The overview map below gives a wider context, but also makes the behavior of the glaciers here far more puzzling.
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The Mountains of Mars

The mountains of Mars
Click for full resolution. The highest mountain on the right is about 450 feet high.

Even as the rover Perseverance is beginning its first science campaign on the floor of Jezero Crater, the rover Curiosity about 3,000 miles to the east has begun its climb into the mountains of Mars that surround the central peak of Gale Crater, Mount Sharp.

The mosaic above, made from two images taken by the rover’s right navigation camera (here and here), shows what Curiosity sees ahead. Since my last update on June 4th describing Curiosity’s future travels, the rover’s science team has pushed forward directly uphill towards the entrance to the canyon Gediz Vallis, visible as the gap between the mountains to the right and left in the above mosaic.

The overview map below shows the rover’s approximate present position, with the yellow lines indicating what the above photo is looking at.
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Boxwork in the basement of Mars

Polygon ridges in Hellas Basin
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The photo to the right, rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here, shows what resembles closely what in Earth caves are called boxwork, polygonal ridges sticking out from the bedrock and usually indicating cracks filled with harder material that resist erosion.

Taken by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) on March 23, 2021, what makes this boxwork especially interesting is its size and location. On Earth cave boxwork generally ranges from a few inches to a few feet across. Not only do these Martian ridges range from 100 feet to a half mile in length, they are located at the lowest point in Hellas Basin, the basement of Mars. In fact, this spot is as close as you can get to Mars’ Death Valley, as shown by the overview map below.
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Zhurong finally located on Mars

Zhurong as seen by MRO
Click for full image.

Though the Chinese had earlier this week released one image taken by their Mars orbiter, Tianwen-1, showing their rover Zhurong on the surface of Mars, they did not provide any specific location information.

This lack has now been filled by a new high resolution image of Zhurong taken by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) on June 6, 2021. This image, cropped to match the Tianwen-1 image and annotated by me to post here, shows the parachute, entry capsule, heat shield, lander, and rover. I have added white dots to distinguish the rover from the lander, which indicate that since the Tianwen-1 orbital image the rover had moved south about 70 feet, suggesting it has been able to travel on the surface.

What this MRO image provides that the Chinese refused to reveal is the latitude and longitude of that landing site, which in turn tells us that the lander put down about 14 miles to the northwest of its targeted landing spot. The mosaic of MRO context camera images below show this landing spot in context with the surrounding terrain.
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Update on Perseverance’s future travel plans

Perseverance's future travels
Click for full image.

The science team for the rover Perseverance yesterday released a revised map of where they intend over the next few months to send the rover on the floor of Jezero Crater.

The map to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, shows that route.

The first science campaign (depicted with yellow hash marks) begins with the rover performing an arching drive southward from its landing site to Séítah-North (Séítah-N). At that point the rover will travel west a short distance to an overlook where it can view much of the Séítah unit. The “Séítah-N Overlook” could also become an area of scientific interest – with Perseverance performing a “toe dip” into the unit to collect remote-sensing measurements of geologic targets.

Once its time at the Séítah-N Overlook is complete, Perseverance will head east, then south toward a spot where the science team can study the Crater Floor Fractured Rough in greater detail. The first core sample collected by the mission will also take place at this location. After Cratered Floor Fractured Rough, the Perseverance rover team will evaluate whether additional exploration (depicted with light-yellow hash marks) farther south – and then west – is warranted.

Whether Perseverance travels beyond the Cratered Floor Fractured Rough during this first science campaign, the rover will eventually retrace its steps. As Perseverance passes the Octavia B. Butler landing site, the first science campaign will conclude. At that point, several months of travel lay ahead as Perseverance makes its way to “Three Forks,” where the second science campaign will begin.

At that point the rover will begin studying the base of the delta of material that in the far past poured through a gap in the western rim of Jezero Crater.

Evidence of past underground water in the Martian equatorial regions?

Mosaic of strange feature
Click here, here, here, and here for full images.

Today’s cool image, to the right, takes us to the equatorial regions of Mars, a region that today appears quite arid and dry based on all the orbital and rover/lander data so far gathered. The photo and its complex geology however provides us a hint that once liquid water did exist here. At least, that is the hypothesis that scientists presently favor, though making it fit this complex geology is not simple or straightforward.

The mosaic to the right is made from four context camera images taken by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). It shows a very complicated series of depressions — one of which vaguely resembles a crater — that appear to have been washed out by some past erosion process, though that process could not have been that simple because of the fissures and cracks that dominate the floor of the circular feature.

I contacted Chris Okubo of the U.S. Geological Survey, who had requested a high resolution image from MRO of a small part of this mosaic, as indicated by the white box, to ask him what we are looking at. His answer was appropriately noncommittal:
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Ingenuity completes 7th flight on Mars

Locations of Perseverance and Ingenuity on Mars
Click for interactive map.

Ingenuity yesterday successfully completed its 7th flight on Mars, heading south and landing exactly as planned.

Ingenuity lifted off around 12:34 local mean solar time on Tuesday, which corresponds to 11:54 a.m. EDT (1554 GMT). As planned, the chopper then traveled 348 feet (106 meters) south from its previous location on the floor of Mars’ Jezero Crater, staying aloft for nearly 63 seconds, JPL officials wrote in another tweet. The solar-powered rotorcraft set down at a new airfield, the fourth one it has reached since landing on the Red Planet with NASA’s Perseverance rover on Feb. 18.

Both the rover Perseverance and Ingenuity are traveling south on the floor of Jezero Crater, with the helicopter leapfrogging ahead every few weeks. On the map the red dot indicates Perseverance location, with the green dots Ingenuity’s last three landing sites. They have not yet added to the map exactly where Ingenuity landed yesterday (#7), so I have estimated it based on the information above.

The red outline indicates the region they are planning to explore over the next few months in order to gather a very thorough understanding of the geology of the floor of Jezero Crater. They will eventually head to the northwest towards the cliffs in the upper left, which is the foot of the large delta that flowed in the past into the crater through a gap in its western rim. The route they will take to get there however remains undetermined.

Eroding Martian lava?

Eroding Martian lava?
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The photo to the right, rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here, was taken on April 19, 2021 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). Requested by Colin Dundas of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Astrogeology Science Center in Arizona, the image was entitled “Enigmatic Terrain in Elysium Planitia.” The image is labeled so because, as Dundas explained,

Flood lava is a key part of the feature, best seen at the north and south ends of the image. What’s unusual is the knobby terrain at the center. … I haven’t yet been able to do a more thorough study of these features, so plenty of puzzles remain!

The higher material in the upper right is likely flood lava. A 2016 paper [pdf] led by Dundas on similar features in Elysium Planitia that were not as knobby found their origin somewhat baffling. The evidence suggested that lava, mud, wind, and ice could all be involved in their formation, but the evidence was also not sufficient to eliminate any possibility.

In the case of today’s image, the explanation might also be any of these possibilities. For example, we might be looking at the erosion of the flood lava, exposing harder knobs of different material that had been there before and had been covered by the lava. Or maybe the knobs are simply the last bits of that layer of flood lava that has not yet eroded away.

As always, the overview map provides some context.
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