Mars and the Earth may have more in common than we thought. NASA just revealed photos of Mars taken by its Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The images look strikingly similar to planet Earth. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has sent thousands of vibrant images back to scientists, has documented everything from dust storms to mineral hills since its launch nearly 12 years ago. The landscapes are somewhat like red deserts or canyons.
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is used to better understand materials, subsurface water, dust and weather on Mars, according to NASA's website. It's also great at supplying us with gorgeous photos of the red planet.
Earth has more in common with Mars than you may think
NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, launched August 12, 2005, is on a search for evidence that water persisted on the surface of Mars for a long period of time. While other Mars missions have shown that water flowed across the surface in Mars' history, it remains a mystery whether water was ever around long enough to provide a habitat for life.
This observation from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter show it is late summer in the Southern hemisphere, so the Sun is low in the sky and subtle topography is accentuated in orbital images. We see many shallow pits in the bright residual cap of carbon dioxide ice (also called "Swiss cheese terrain"). There is also a deeper, circular formation that penetrates through the ice and dust. This might be an impact crater or it could be a collapse pit.
A close-up image from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter of a recent 150-meter diameter impact crater near Amazonis Mensa and Medusae Fossae is another great example of geologic complexity of Mars. The spider web-like texture of this crater is intriguing. On Earth, we have many geologic mechanisms that embrace the surface of the planet in an almost constant state of metamorphosis. Although Mars is not nearly as geologically active as Earth, it is still a host to many processes that shape its surface even today (e.g., aeolian modification, periglacial processes, recent impacts, etc.). The appearance of the ejecta of this crater is likely a combination of both the characteristics of the target material it was deposited on, and processes that modified and degraded it over time.
It's not that common to see craters on steep hills, partly because rocks falling downhill can quickly erase such craters. Here, however, NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) observes a small impact has occurred on the sloping wall of a larger crater and is well-preserved. Dark, blocky ejecta from the smaller crater has flowed downhill (to the west) toward the floor of the larger crater. Understanding the emplacement of such ejecta on steep hills is an area of ongoing research.
This image from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter covers a steep west-facing slope in southwestern Ganges Chasma, north of the larger canyons of Valles Marineris. The spot was targeted both for the bedrock exposures and to look for active slope processes. We see two distinct flow deposits: lobate flows that are relatively bright, sometimes with dark fringes, and very thin brownish lines that resemble recurring slope lineae (or 'RSL'). Both flows emanate from rocky alcoves. The RSL are superimposed on the lobate deposits (perhaps rocky debris flows), so they are younger and more active. The possible role of water in forming the debris flows and RSL are the subjects of continuing debate among scientists. We will acquire more images here to see if the candidate RSL are active.
Erosion of the Edge of the South Polar Layered Deposits / image by NASA.gov / source NASA.gov
This image from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows small ripples, about 10 meters apart, located in Her Desher Vallis. Her Desher is a small channel that shows evidence of phyllosilicates -- silicates with a sheet-like structure, such as clay minerals. Much larger images of this area show that Her Desher Vallis appears isolated, with no obvious connections to craters or larger valleys. Her Desher, the ancient Egyptian name for Mars, translates to "the Red One."
This image from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows part of the central uplifted region of an impact crater more than 50 kilometers wide. That means that the bedrock has been raised from a depth of about 5 kilometers, exposing ancient materials. The warm (yellowish-reddish) colors mark the presence of minerals altered by water, whereas the bluish and greenish rocks have escaped alteration. Sharp-crested ridges and smooth areas are young windblown materials.
Erosion of the Edge of the South Polar Layered Deposits / image by NASA.gov / source NASA.gov
This image, an oblique view from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter of the sloping edge of the stack of icy layers over the South Pole, has some interesting morphologies. The slope appears to be eroding from a combination of landslides, block falls, and sublimation. The bright icy exposure in the larger landslide scar (upper right) suggests that this was a relatively recent event. Small-scale textures over the scene are due to both blowing wind and the thermal expansion and contraction of shallow ice.
This image NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) finally completes a stereo pair with another observation acquired in 2007. It shows a fresh (well-preserved) landslide scarp and rocky deposit off the edge of a streamlined mesa in Simud Valles, a giant outflow channel carved by ancient floods. The stereo images can be used to measure the topography, which in turn constrains models for the strength of the mesa's bedrock. Do look at the stereo anaglyph.
Most of the oldest terrains on Mars have eroded into branching valleys, as seen here in by NASA's Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter, much like many land regions of Earth are eroded by rain and snowmelt runoff. This is the primary evidence for major climate change on Mars billions of years ago. How the climate of Mars could have supported a warmer and wetter environment has been the subject of scientific debates for 40 years. A full-resolution enhanced color closeup reveals details in the bedrock and dunes on the valley floor (upper left). The bedrock of ancient Mars has been hardened and cemented by groundwater.
The collision that created Hargraves Crater impacted into diverse bedrock lithologies of ancient Mars. As a result, the impact ejecta is a rich mix of rock types with different colors and textures, as seen by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The crater is named after Robert Hargraves who discovered and studied meteorite impacts on the Earth.
Mamers Valles is a long (approximately 1000 kilometers) sinuous canyon beginning in Arabia Terra and ending in the Northern lowlands of Deuteronilus Mensae. This image from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) features the southern facing slope of the canyon wall. The northern half (top) has a rough, pitted texture with numerous impact craters, while the middle section shows the steep canyon wall. Streaks of slightly different colors show slope material eroding onto the canyon floor. Though the canyon itself was formed long ago, the material deposited on the canyon floor has been laid down over time, creating a much younger surface.
Recurring slope lineae (RSL) are seasonal flows on warm slopes, and are especially common in central and eastern Valles Marineris, as seen in this observation by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). This image covers a large area full of interesting features, but the enhanced color closeup highlight some of the RSL. Here, the RSL are active on east-facing slopes, extending from bouldery terrain and terminating on fans. Perhaps the fans themselves built up over time from the seasonal flows. Part of the fans with abundant RSL are dark, while the downhill portion of the fans are bright. The role of water in RSL activity is a matter of active debate.
This image captured by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) covers diverse surface units on the floor of eastern Coprates Chasma in eastern Valles Marineris. The bedrock has diverse minerals producing wonderful color contrasts. In over 10 years of orbiting Mars, HiRISE has acquired nearly 50,000 large images, but they cover less than 3 percent of the Martian surface.
Although large gullies (ravines) are concentrated at higher latitudes, there are gullies on steep slopes in equatorial regions, as seen in this image captured by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). An enhanced-color closeup shows part of the rim and inner slope of Krupac Crater located just 7.8 degrees south of the equator. The colors of the gully deposits match the colors of the eroded source materials. Krupac is a relatively young impact crater, but exposes ancient bedrock. Krupac Crater also hosts some of the most impressive recurring slope lineae (RSL) on equatorial Mars outside of Valles Marineris. Another close look shows some of RSL, flowing downhill (to the left). The RSL leave bright deposits when inactive from previous years; this year's active RSL are the thin dark lines.
Dark, windblown sand covers intricate sedimentary rock layers in this image captured by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) from Ganges Chasma, a canyon in the Valles Marineris system. These features are at once familiar and unusual to those familiar with Earth's beaches and deserts. Most sand dunes on Earth are made of silica-rich sand, giving them a light color; these Martian dunes owe their dark color to the iron and magnesium-rich sand found in the region.
The mound in the center of this Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) image appears to have blocked the path of the dunes as they marched south (north is to the left in this image) across the scene. Many of these transverse dunes have slipfaces that face south, although in some cases, it's hard to tell for certain. Smaller dunes run perpendicular to some of the larger-scale dunes, probably indicating a shift in wind directions in this area. Although it might be hard to tell, this group of dunes is very near the central pit of a 35-kilometer-wide impact crater. Data from other instruments indicate the presence of clay-like materials in the rock exposed in the central pit.
Viscous, lobate flow features are commonly found at the bases of slopes in the mid-latitudes of Mars, and are often associated with gullies. These features are bound by ridges that resemble terrestrial moraines, suggesting that these deposits are ice-rich, or may have been ice-rich in the past. The source of the ice is unclear, but there is some thought that it is deposited from the atmosphere during periods of high obliquity, also known as axial tilt. The flow features in this image are particularly massive and the bounding scarps appear very high standing and are layered as well.
This image from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) shows the location with the most impressive known gully activity in Mars' northern hemisphere. Gullies are active in the winter due to carbon dioxide frost, but northern winters are shorter and warmer than southern winters, so there is less frost and less gully activity. An enhanced-color image cutout shows recent gullies with bright colors.
Color from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) instrument onboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter can show mineralogical differences due to the near-infrared filter. The sources of channels on the north rim of Hale Crater show fresh blue, green, purple and light toned exposures under the the overlying reddish dust. The causes and timing of activity in channels and gullies on Mars remains an active area of research. Geologists infer the timing of different events based on what are called "superposition relationships" between different landforms. Areas like this are a puzzle.
This image from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows a small (0.4 kilometer) mesa, one of several surrounded by sand dunes in Noctis Labyrinthyus, an extensively fractured region on the western end of Valles Marineris. Heavily eroded, with clusters of boulders and sand dunes on its surface, this layered mesa is probably comprised of sedimentary deposits that are being exhumed as it erodes. The layers themselves are visible as faint bands along the lower left edge of the mesa.
The Ares 3 Landing Site: Where Science Fact Meets Fiction / image by NASA.gov / source NASA.gov
This image from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows a location on Mars associated with the best-selling novel and Hollywood movie, "The Martian." This area is in the Acidalia Planitia region. In the novel and the movie, it is the landing site of a crewed mission named Ares 3. For the story's central character, Acidalia Planitia is within driving distance from where NASA's Mars Pathfinder, with its Sojourner rover, landed in 1997.