Glacial tributaries draining south on Mars

Glacial tributaries draining south on Mars
Click for original image.

Cool image time! The picture to the right, rotated, cropped, reduced, and sharpened to post here, was taken on March 27, 2024 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). It shows what the scientists label as a “valley network”, what appears to be several tributaries flowing downhill from the northeast to come together into a larger single flow to the southwest. The elevation drop from the high to the low points in this picture is about 600 feet.

What formed the valleys? This location is at 35 degrees south latitude, so we are almost certainly looking at what appear to be shallow glaciers within those valleys, protected by a thin veneer of dust and debris. It also appears that the stippled surrounding plains might also contain a lot of near-surface ice, also protected by a thin layer of dust and debris. The stippling indicates some sublimation and erosion.
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A really really big landslide on Mars

A really really big landslide on Mars
Click for original image.

Sometimes the cool geological features I find in the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) image archive are so large they are difficult to present on this webpage. Today is an example. The picture to the right, cropped, reduced, and sharpened to post here, was taken on March 13, 2024 by the high resolution camera on MRO. It shows the distinct run-out of debris from a landslide that flowed downhill to the north as a single unit of material. Along the way it carved its track in the ground, almost like a ramp.

The full picture however suggested something much more spectacular. In that full image this landslide is merely a small side avalanche to a landslide many times larger. And that high resolution picture only shows what appears to be a small section of that giant slide. Obviously, this required a look at the global mosaic produced by MRO’s context camera to find out how far that avalanche actually extended.
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Curiosity looks forward and back

Panorama looking north
Click for original image.

Overview map
Click for interactive map

The images above and below are small sections from 360 degree panorama created on May 13, 2024 from 31 photos taken by the right navigation camera on the Mars rover Curiosity.

The overview map to the right provides the context. The red dotted line indicates Curiosity’s planned route, while the white dotted line its actual route. The rover’s present position is marked by the blue dot. The yellow lines indicate the area covered by the picture above, while the green lines indicate the area covered by the picture below.

The image above looks north, back down Gediz Vallis and across to the north rim of Gale Crater, about 20-25 miles away. The red dotted line marks the rover’s path to get up to this point. All told, Curiosity has climbed about 2,500 feet in elevation since it left the floor of Gale Crater about nine years ago.

The image below looks south, up Gediz Vallis and towards the peak of Mount Sharp (not visible), about 26 miles away and about 16,000 feet higher up. Curiosity might move forward about 500 feet to the small hill on the left (indicated by the red dot), or it might turn west from this point, as indicated by the red dotted line on the overview map.

Panorama looking south
Click for original image.

Perseverance looks ahead, out of Jezero Crater

Panorama May 9, 2024, low resolution
Click for high resolution. Go here and here for original images.

Cool image time! The panorama above, recropped, reduced, and annotated to post here, was created from two pictures taken by Perseverance’s right navigation camera on May 9, 2024 (here and here). It looks almost due west, out the gap in the rim of Jezero Crater to the mountains beyond.

The blue dot in the overview map below marks Perseverance’s location when these photos were taken. The yellow lines indicate the approximate area covered by the panorama. The red dots indicate the rover’s planned route.

It is obvious this panorama was taken as part of the science team’s planning for Perseverance’s upcoming traverse across Neretva Vallis. The picture also gives us a nice view of the barren terrain found here in the dry tropics of Mars. There is no ice or water present anywhere, though the geology strongly suggests H2O in one form or another once shaped this landscape.

Nor is there any visible life. As much as NASA and many others devoutly wish to find some, I doubt any will be found. There is a very tiny chance the remains of long-gone microbiotic life might be found, but I wouldn’t bet much money on that either.
Overview map
Click for interactive map.

The edge of a vast frozen lava sea on Mars

The edge of a vast frozen lava sea on Mars
Click for original image.

Cool image time! The picture to the right, rotated, cropped, reduced, and sharpened to post here, was taken on February 10, 2024 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). It shows what the scientists label boringly “Lava Interactions with Landscape.”

What is the lava, and what is the landscape? Here’s is my initial guess, based simply on looking at this image alone. The mound in the middle is the landscape, the rounded top of a very ancient mountain or hill. The flat plain that surrounds it is flood lava, that in the far past poured in and mostly buried the mountain.

Everything here signals a very old terrain. To get this mountain worn so smooth from the thin Martian atmosphere has to have taken more than a billion years. And that flood lava has to also be as old, because of the number of craters on its surface. I don’t know the impact rate, but I know it takes time to accumulate this number of impacts.

The sense of age is further underlined by the moat that surrounds the hill. When that lava poured in, it would have flooded right up to the mountain slope. Over time the weakest section of lava, most prone to erosion, would be that contact point. To wear it away as we now see it must have taken many eons.

All these speculations are a very unreliable guesses. To get a better understanding of this terrain it is essential we look at more than this picture alone.
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Taffy terrain in Mars’ death valley

Taffy terrain in Mars' death valley
Click for original image.

Cool image time! The picture to the right, rotated, cropped, and enhanced to post here, was taken on December 17, 2023 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). It shows what the scientists label “banded terrain and possible breached crater.”

Banded terrain is another name for a geological feature dubbed “taffy terrain” and only found on Mars, and furthermore only found there in Hellas Basin, the deepest giant impact basin on the red planet. This taffy terrain is considered very young, no than 3 billion years old, and formed from the flow of some form of viscous material, though what that material is remains unsolved.

This image however may help solve that mystery. The breached crater is just off frame to the upper right. The two-fingered flow coming down from the picture’s top is the flow coming out of the crater’s gap.
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Swirls of layers and dunes at the bottom of Valles Marineris

Overview map

Swirls of layers and dunes
Click for original image.

Cool image time! The picture to the right, cropped, reduced, and sharpened to post here, was taken on February 25, 2024 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). It shows a small spot of the floor of Mars’ giant canyon Valles Marineris, the largest such canyon known in the solar system, as indicated by the white dot on the overview map above.

This location is not actually at the very bottom of the canyon, but on a very large mountainous bench extending out about 20 miles from the canyon’s south rim. It seems there is a lot of dust and sand on this bench, producing many miles of swirling dunes. It also appears there are many terraced layers in the region as well, which also swirl in curves going in many different directions. Though it appears that most of the swirls in this picture are from layers in the bedrock, this conclusion is not certain. For example, are the curves on the top of the mesa dunes or bedrock layers? The answer is hardly clear.

For scale, the canyon at this location is about 80 to 90 miles wide. The northern rim rises five miles from the bottom to the top, while the south rises seven miles. And yet, though five to ten times larger than Earth’s Grand Canyon, this is only a small side spur of Valles Marineris.

Curiosity’s journey in Gediz Vallis approaching its end

Panorama taken on May 1, 2024
Click for original image.

Overview map
Click for interactive map.

Cool image time! The panorama above, cropped, reduced, enhanced, and annotated to post here, was created using 31 pictures taken by Curiosity’s right navigation camera on May 1, 2024. It looks uphill into Gediz Vallis, the slot canyon that the rover has been traversing since August 2022.

The overview map to the right gives the context. The blue dot marks Curiosity’s present position. The red dotted line, on both the panorama and the overview indicate the rover’s planned route, with the white dotted line marking the route it actually traveled. The yellow lines indicate approximate the area covered by the panorama.

Coming into view inside Gediz Vallis is that small outcrop in the center of the canyon that the science team has targeted for inspection for years. It will be the last spot the rover visits in Gediz Vallis before turning west to head uphill in a parallel canyon. To see that route look at the map in this September 2023 post. Curiosity will travel west past two canyons before turning uphill again in the third.

Even then, Curiosity will still be in the low foothills at the base of Mount Sharp. The peak, blocked from view by the mountain’s lower flanks, is still 26 miles away and about 16,000 feet higher up. The journey to get there has really only begun, even after a dozen years exploring Gale Crater.

Another Mars location being considered for future helicopter mission

Global overview of potential Mars helicopter missions

Floor of Degana Crater
Click for original picture.

In today’s May download of new photos from Mars Reconnaissnce Orbiter (MRO) I came across the picture to the right, reduced and sharpened to post here, and taken on April 2, 2024 by MRO’s high resolution camera. The scientists labeled it “Sample Rim Traverse Hazards at Possible Mars Helicopter Landing Site.” It was clearly taken as part of preliminary research to determine some potential landing sites for a future Mars helicopter mission.

Nor is this the first such location or region on Mars targeted for such a mission. As shown in the global map above of Mars, colored by the elevation data from MRO (blue is low and orange is high), two other candidate sites are being looked at as well. About a half dozen pictures have been taken inside the eastern end of Valles Marineris, exploring a helicopter mission there. In addition, MRO took for the same purpose a recent photo of the floor of Terby Crater, on the northern interior slope of Hellas Basin.
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Lava land on Mars

Lava land on Mars
Click for original image.

Cool image time! The picture to the right, cropped, reduced, and sharpened to post here, was taken on March 2, 2024 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). It shows what the scientists label as “platy fractures.”

The ridges likely align with cracks that developed over time on this lava field, which then formed the ridges when magma oozed up from below. It is also possible that these events were closely linked, that the pressure from the magma below cracked this lava field, with the magma immediately oozing out. Because the pressure was evenly applied across the whole surface, it caused a network of cracks and plates, not a single vent or caldera. The even distribution of the pressure also caused only a small amount of lava to leak out to form the ridges.
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Martian dunes with frost and a sublimating dry ice mantle

Martian dunes surrounded by frost
Click for original image.

Cool image time! The picture to the right, cropped to post here, was taken on March 16, 2024 by the high resolution camera of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). It was released today as a captioned picture from MRO’s camera team. As noted in the caption, written by the camera’s principal investigator Alfred McEwen:

This image shows a field a sand dunes in the Martian springtime while the seasonal carbon dioxide frost is sublimating into the air. This sublimation process is not at all uniform, instead creating a pattern of dark spots.

In addition, the inter-dune areas are also striking, with bright frost persisting in the troughs of polygons. Our enhanced-color cutout is centered on a brownish-colored inter-dune area.

Each winter the carbon dioxide in the Martian atmosphere falls as snow, mantling the surface in the latitudes above 60 degrees with a clear coat of dry ice. When spring arrives the sunlight passes through the mantle to heat the ground below, which in turn causes the base of the dry ice mantle to sublimate into gas. When the pressure builds enough, the gas breaks through the mantle at its weak points, spewing out and bringing with it dust from below, which stains the mantle with the dark spots.
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Numerous layers in the interior slopes of Argyre Basin on Mars

Numerous layers on Mars
Click for original image.

The cool image to the right, cropped, reduced, and enhanced to post here, was taken on February 22, 2024 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). It gives us another example the many-layered geological history of Mars, seen in numerous locations across the entire Martian surface.

This example shows many thin layers, going downhill about 450 feet from the mesa near the bottom of the picture to the low point near the picture’s top. At this resolution there appear to be roughly two dozen prominent layers in that descent, but a closer look suggests many more layers within those large layers. Like the terrain that Curiosity is traversing on Mount Sharp, the closer one gets the more layers one sees. And each layer signifies a different geological event, possibly even marking the annual seasons, each either adding or removing a layer of dust or ice, or placing down a new layer of lava.
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Flat tadpole depression in ancient Martian crater

Flat tadpole depression in ancient Martian crater
Click for original image.

Cool image time! The picture to the right, rotated, cropped, reducedl, and enhanced to post here, was taken on February 24, 2024 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). Dubbed a “terrain sample” by the camera team, it was likely taken not as part of any specific research project but to fill a gap in the camera’s schedule so as to maintain that camera’s proper temperature. When they have to do this, they try to pick interesting targets, though there is no guarantee the result will be very interesting.

In this case the camera team already knew this location would have intriguing geology, based on an earlier terrain sample taken a year ago only eight miles to the south. The landscape here is a flat plateaus surrounding flat depressions, some of which appear connected by drainage channels. Today’s picture shows one flat depression with a short tail-like channel flowing into it.

Note the pockmarked surface. The many holes could be impact craters, but they also could be holes caused when the near-surface ice at this location sublimated into gas and bubbled upward to escape. Now all we see is dry bedrock, the flat ground riddled with holes.
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Infeeder to a Martian paleolake

Infeeder to a Martian paleolake
Click for original image.

Cool image time! The picture to the right, rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here, was taken on December 21, 2023 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). It shows what the scientists label as an “inlet to a paleolake.” I have used this context camera lower resolution image taken January 14, 2023 to fill in the blank central strip caused by a failed filter on the high resolution camera.

The elevation difference between the plateau on the lower left and the lake bottom on the upper right is about 700 feet. The inlet channel floor is about 200 feet below the plateau. We know it is ancient because of the number of small craters within it as well as on the lakebed below. It has been a very long time since any water or ice flowed down this channel to drain into the lake to the north.

While a lot of analysis of orbital data has found numerous examples of paleolakes in the dry equatoral regions of Mars (see here, here, here, here, and here , this particular example is so obvious not much analysis is needed, as shown in the overview map below.
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Ancient flood lava in the Martian cratered highlands

Ancient flood lava on the cratered highlands of Mars
Click for original image.

Cool image time! The picture to the right, cropped, reduced, and sharpened to post here, was taken on February 4, 2024 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).

The ridges were the primary reason this photo was taken, as they cover a 50-mile-square region of relatively flat terrain that also appears to be a series of steps downward to the west. The dotted line on the picture indicates one of those steps downward, with the plain to the west of that line about 100 to 200 feet lower that the plain to the east.

My first guess was that these ridges might be inverted channels, but that really didn’t make sense considering their random nature completely divorced from the downward grade. Then I took a wider view, and came up with a better guess.
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Engineers say goodbye to Ingenuity

Ingenuity with missing blade
Ingenuity with its missing blade. Click for original image.

Because Perseverance is about to move out of range of direct communications with the disabled Ingenuity helicopter, engineers have now completed their final transmission from the helicopter yesterday, confirming that a new software update has been successfully installed.

The telemetry confirmed that a software update previously beamed up to Ingenuity was operating as expected. The new software contains commands that direct the helicopter to continue collecting data well after communications with the rover have ceased.

With the software patch in place, Ingenuity will now wake up daily, activate its flight computers, and test the performance of its solar panel, batteries, and electronic equipment. In addition, the helicopter will take a picture of the surface with its color camera and collect temperature data from sensors placed throughout the rotorcraft. Ingenuity’s engineers and Mars scientists believe such long-term data collection could not only benefit future designers of aircraft and other vehicles for the Red Planet, but also provide a long-term perspective on Martian weather patterns and dust movement.

The engineers belief that the helicopter could collect data for as long as twenty years. That data will sit on Ingenuity until such time as a later exploration team arrives, either manned or unmanned. There is also the possibility that later in Perseverance’s mission it could pass nearby again, allowing engineers to grab some of the data then.

According to the press release, those same engineers are now exploring future helicopter missions to Mars. Based on imagery I have seen coming down from Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), the as yet unstated target locations could be inside the eastern end of Valles Marineris or on the northern perimeter of Hellas Basin.

Isolated flat-topped mesa inside large Martian crater

Isolated flat-topped mesa
Click for original image.

Cool image time! The picture to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, was taken on February 18, 2024 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).

The camera team labels this “layers in butte”, but because we are looking straight down at this 400-foot-high butte, it is difficult to see any layers at all. Based on most Martian geology however it would be shocking if this butte is not made up of multiple horizontal layers, ending with that flat surface layer at the top. Moreover, the base of the mesa to the northeast is clearly made up of a series of terraces that appear obscured at other points due to the presence of dust and dunes.

A side view would help clarify the number of layers and their thickness, but it does appear that this butte contains evidence of the geology that once covered this whole area, but over eons has eroded everything away but this butte.
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A Martian rock with holes

A Martian rock with holes
Click for original image.

Cool image time! The picture to the right, cropped, reduced, and sharpened to post here, was taken on April 13, 2024 by the high resolution camera on the Mars rover Perseverance.

The largest rock in the picture is probably only one or a few feet or so across. It has two holes, one very visible in the center and a second less obvious in the shadow on the right. What makes the obvious hole most intriguing is that it appears it was formerly entirely enclosed by the boulder, and was exposed when a section broke off. That section is the smaller rock in the foreground. I wonder if the Perseverance team will bring the rover around to get a view of that smaller rock, to see if it has its own corresponding part of this hole.

Note the smoothness of the rocks. This smoothness is very similar to what Curiosity saw when it was either on the floor of Gale Crater, or at the base of Mount Sharp. In both cases that smoothness suggests either flowing water or glacial ice erosion, like the smooth cobbles one routinely finds in streambeds or in the moraines of glaciers.

As Curiosity climbed Mount Sharp the smoothness was replaced with a delicate flaky fleecework indicating many layers but little violent erosion capable of smoothing the surface (see for example the images here and here). It appears Perseverance is still low enough in Jezero Crater to be within the ancient active region, formed from flowing water or ice.

As for the holes, my guess is that this rock formed from lava, and the holes are what geologists call “vugs”, bubbles formed within the lava as it solidified.

A Martian river of sand

A Martian river of sand
Click for original image.

Overview map
Click for interactive map.

Cool image time! The panorama above, cropped, reduced, enhanced, and flipped to post here, was taken on April 14, 2024 by the right navigation camera on the Mars rover Curiosity, created from a total of 31 images.

The full mosaic covers a full 360 degree view from where Curiosity presently sits, inside the slot canyon Gediz Vallis. The part shown above only covers a little more than half, looking west at the butte which forms the western wall of the slot canyon, as shown by the yellow lines and the arrow in the overview map to the right. The blue dot marks Curiosity’s present position, while the red dotted line its planned route.

What makes this part of the mosaic especially distinct is the narrow river of sand that flows downhill from the right to the left. While everywhere else the ground is heavily covered with rocks, along this strip the surface is smooth sand, with many frozen dunes resembling waves or ripples as the flows downhill slowly.

The river is formed against a low cliff wall, which is why the sand gathered along this strip. At the same time, the downhill grade to the left (north) is allowing the sand to carve a distinct path, at the base of that cliff.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Mars is alien, Mars is unique, but above all, Mars is wonderful.

A squeezed Martian landscape

A squeezed Martian landscape
Click for original image.

Cool image time! The picture to the right, cropped, reduced, and sharpened to post here, was taken on February 20, 2024 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). It shows what the scientists label “tilted blocks in the low northern latitudes.”

At first glance this circle of tilted blocks appear to mark a place where something erupted from below, pushing and cracking the blocks away in all directions. If there was an eruption however it appears very little if anything poured out from below. Instead, the ground inside the hollow in the center is about the same elevation as the ground surrounding the tilted blocks.

Clearly some pressure from below pushed these surface blocks upward to crack and tilt, but the answer cannot be found in this close-up picture. Instead, we need to look wider, not only at the overview map below, but at the inset on that overview map.
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The foot of a Martian glacier

The foot of a Martian glacier
Click for original image.

Cool image time! The picture to the right, cropped, reduced, and enhanced to post here, was taken on February 18, 2024 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). It shows what the scientists label as the “terminus of possible glacier-like feature.” That feature is at the lower left, at the point where glacier-like material appears to be flowing out of the channel from the northeast but then ending in an area of rough fingers.

That this looks exactly like a glacier does not guarantee that it is one, which is why the scientists insert the word “possible.” Nonetheless, the geology resembles that of a glacier, from the parallel lines along its length as well as its existence inside this channel. The location is also at 49 degrees south latitude, well within the mid-latitude strips on Mars where scientists believe many such glaciers exist.

The overview map below adds further weight to this conclusion. It also suggests that there are even more glaciers on Mars than research up to now has suggested.
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The taffy terrain in Mars’ death valley

Taffy terrain in Hellas Basin on Mars

Cool image time! The picture to the right, rotated, cropped, reduced, and sharpened to post here, was taken on February 21, 2024 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). Labeled “banded terrain and layering,” it actually is a good example of “taffy terrain,” a weird Martian geological formation unique to the Red Planet that scientists as yet don’t quite understand. This 2014 paper only says this:

The apparent sensitivity to local topography and preference for concentrating in localized depressions is compatible with deformation as a viscous fluid. In addition, the bands display clear signs of degradation and slumping at their margins along with a suite of other features that include fractured mounds, polygonal cracks at variable size-scales, and knobby/hummocky textures. Together, these features suggest an ice-rich composition for at least the upper layers of the terrain, which is currently being heavily modified through loss of ice and intense weathering, possibly by wind.

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Complex ridged terrain in ancient Martian crater

Complex ridges in an ancient Martian crater
Click for original image.

Cool image time! The picture to the right, rotated, cropped, reduced, and enhanced to post here, was taken on January 16, 2024 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). Because an electronic unit for one of this camera’s filters has failed, causing a blank strip in the image center, I have filled in that gap using an MRO context camera image taken October 31, 2015.

The scientists describe this geology as “ridged terrain.” What I see is a surface that was like wet plaster once, and then a giant finger touched it and pulled away quickly, so that as it left some material pulled upward to create random ridges within the depression created by that finger.

These ridges are inside a very very ancient 110-mile-wide crater dubbed Margulis. According to the 2021 poster [pdf] of the scientists who did the first geological mapping of this crater, the crater floor “show remnants of sedimentary materials, suggesting the [crater was] subjected to widespread episodes of resurfacing and denudation.”

Though located in the dry equatorial regions, this ridged terrain suggests it formed suddenly when underground ice sublimated into gas, bursting upward to break the surface when the gas pressure became high enough.
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Patches of volcanic Martian ash covering patches of frozen volcanic dunes

Patches of volcanic Martian ash over frozen volcanic dunes

Cool image time! The picture to the right, cropped, reduced, and sharpened to post here, was taken on December 24, 2023 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).

What makes this terrain intriguing are the series of parallel ridges that cover most of the picture, with smaller ridges at right angles filling the hollows between. It appears we are looking at two different sets of dunes, the larger ridges indicating the southeast-to-northwest direction of the prevailing winds, while the smaller ridges in the hollows suggest the wind patterns within the hollows, causing smaller ripple dunes to form at right angles.

Note however the flat patches in the lower left. The material there appears to fill the hollows, covering the dunes. We can tell this by the hollows to the east, which have an almost identical dune pattern. Those flat patches then are likely covering similar dunes, with the patched material either having been blown away to expose the lower dunes, or having been blown here to cover them in patches. That the dunes appear unchanged under this patched material when exposed also suggests strongly that these dunes are hardened into stone, no longer soft sand that can be blown by the wind.
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The Martian view from high on Mount Sharp

The Martian view of mountains
Click for original image.

Cool image time! The picture to the right, cropped, reduced, and sharpened to post here, was downloaded today from left navigation camera on the Mars rover Curiosity.

The image looks to the north from the lower foothills of Mount Sharp. The view is downhill across the floor of Gale Crater. The intermittent dotted red line that weaves between those foothills marks the approximate route that Curiosity took to climb through them to reach this point.

About 20 to 25 miles away the mountainous rim of the crater can be seen dimly. The air is filled with dust, because its is almost the peak of the dust season at Gale Crater, located just south of the Martian equator.

The overview map below provides some further context.
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Martian waves of ridges and cracks

Martian waves of ridges and cracks
Click for original image.

In preparing today’s cool image I initially planned to post an picture taken on December 26, 2023 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), as it showed a strange series of ridges that almost resembled waves or ripples on a pond.

In digging into MRO’s context camera archive to get the larger context, however, I immediately switched to the photo on the right, cropped, reduced, and sharpened to post here. Taken on December 17, 2010, it shows a much more mysterious and striking set of geological features than the closer view of the high resolution image, with the wave-shaped ridges on its western half but another set of wave-shaped cracks on its eastern half.

Even more intriguing, the arcs for the ridges curve in the opposite direction from the arcs for the cracks. It is almost as if there were two flows moving in opposite directions, right next to each other.
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Scientists release detailed geological map of the landing site for Europe’s Franklin rover

Low resolution cropped section of map
Click for original image.

Scientists today released a new high resolution and very detailed geological map of the landing site for Europe’s Franklin rover, produced using orbital data from the U.S.’S Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Europe’s Trace Gas Orbiter.

A very low resolution version of the map is to the right.

The work was divided into 134 one-square-kilometre areas, so that the [80-person] team could fully cover the estimated landing area. Scientists used a web-based system that allowed everyone to work on the map in parallel. The software was provided by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and set up at ESA [European Space Agency]. Data came from the Colour and Stereo Surface Imaging System (CaSSIS) onboard the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter and several instruments on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), including the HiRISE camera, which returns images from Mars orbit at 25 cm per pixel.

The mapping leads then pieced together the information on all the areas to form a coherent map that shows the geology of the landing site in unprecedented detail. The map includes the main types of bedrock, and structures with distinct shapes like ridges and craters. It even features the material that rests on top, for example blown by the wind, or thrown long distances when meteorites impacted the surface.

The result is the highest resolution map of Oxia Planum yet, created at a scale of 1:25 000, by which every centimetre equals 250 metres on the martian surface. An average drive of 25 to 50 metres a day for Rosalind Franklin would be one to two milimetres on the map.

The team had the extra time to compile this map because the launch of Franklin to Mars was delayed a number of times because of engineering issues and the Ukraine War, which ended the Europe’s partnership with Russia, requiring ESA to find other means to launch and land the rover.

Data from Perseverance suggests the delta in Jezero Crater was formed by a wide variety of different “fluvial” events

Jezero Crater delta
Jezero Crater delta

Using data from the Perseverance rover in Jezero crater, scientists now conclude that the delta that poured through a gap in the crater’s rim was formed by a wide variety of different “fluvial” events, not a steady flow as previously assumed.

From the paper’s conclusions:

The origin of this variability as well as that of the high discharge represented by the boulder conglomerate is still unknown. Realistic hypotheses include seasonal variations due to melting of snow, glacial input with possible episodic surges punctuating more regular fluvial input, or arid climate type of flows with intense storms and related flash floods.

We do not speculate further about the nature of fluvial activity in this study. However, the variability and the presence of high discharge rates have important implications on the lake evolution. Firstly, previous modeling of Jezero delta formation used steady-state discharge rates to estimate the time required to form the delta, an assumption that we can no longer justify according to our observations. Secondly, estimates of discharge rates … may be used as upper limits for some of the peak discharge rates, although the number of flood events is still difficult to determine from the sparse outcrops and the ubiquitous presence of scree.

In other words, the delta was not formed by a single event or a long stream of liquid flowing into the crater to form the lake that scientists believe once filled the crater. Instead, that flow varied, involved numerous distinct and different events over time, and likely included glacial ice transport as well.

Not that this is a surprise, but as always, the closer we get to a planet and the more detailed our data about it, the more complicated we find its nature and origins.

Bursting bubbles of water gas on Mars

Bursting bubbles on Mars
Click for original image.

Cool image time! The picture to the right, cropped, reduced, and enhanced to post here, was taken on January 12, 2024 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). Because of a technical issue that leaves a blank strip down the center of recent high-res MRO images, I have filled in that gap using a MRO context camera photo taken on January 12, 2015. The resolution is much less, but by doing so we can see the ground features as a unit.

What are we looking at? According to the scientists, this picture shows “fresh-looking ruptures,” referring to the broken line of sharp tears inside that meandering canyon that almost resemble a fresh wound in flesh. As this location is at 28 degrees south latitude, it lies on the edge of dry equatorial regions, where orbital images have sometimes found hints of a few remaining buried glaciers that are much more common closer to the poles.

In this case it appears the warmer equatorial climate has acted to heat up the buried ice so that it sublimated into gas. At some point the gas pressure caused the surface to burst, much like bubbles bursting on the surface of a pot of simmering tomato sauce, leaving behind these scars.
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Martian vent or sink?

A Martian vent or sink?
Click for original image.

Cool image time! The picture to the right, rotated, cropped, reduced, and enhanced to post here, was taken on January 29, 2024 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).

Though the scientists label this image showing “channels”, what I see is either a vent or a sink, with the channels to the south indicating past flows either coming out of the depression or into it. The uncertainty exists because the surface grade in this region is essentially flat. There is a lot of small up and down variations, but overall it is very difficult to determine the general trend, suggesting that when the depression and channels formed the grade was different, and there is no way from this data to determine the angle at that time.

Were the flows that created the channels lava or water or ice? Knowing the grade when these channels formed would help answer this question, but other research now suggests the latter.
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