Eroded and possibly wet Lohse Crater

Gully flow near central peak of Lohse Crater on Mars
Click for full image.

Cool image time! Today we take a look at one particular 100-mile-wide crater, Lohse Crater, located in the southern cratered highlands on Mars. The photo to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, focuses in on one of the many eroding gullies found in the mountainous region surrounding the crater’s central peak. Taken on August 20, 2020 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), the full image is centered on that central peak, just off the south edge of this cropped section. This new image is part of a long monitoring campaign, begun in 2007, of this central peak region. For more than six Martian years, scientists have been tracking the numerous gullies found throughout the central peak region to see if there have been any changes.

I focused on this specific gully because I think it illustrates well why planetary scientists are monitoring these gullies. Whatever flowed down from the cliff on the left hit the material on the right hard enough and fast enough to imprint a curve into the material on the crater floor. Moreover, it does not appear to have simply been a landslide, for several reasons. First, the cliff does not appear cut back at the flow’s head, as you would expect if a section had broken off. Second, the material in the flow does not look like debris from an avalanche. In fact, there does not appear to be very much debris in the gully at all.

Third, and most important, the flow appears to originate at the cliff base, kind of what you’d expect if there was seepage coming out of a layer in that cliff face. Kind of what you’d expect on Earth, at a spring!

Was that flow water? This is the big question. Lohse Crater is significant in that it was one of the first locations on Mars [pdf] spotted by Mars Global Surveyor in the late 1990s where gullies were found suggesting some form of regular erosion possibly caused by flowing water. As this 2005 paper then concluded,
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