5 Stumping New Images From Mars Reveal Large-Scale Erosion by Water, Wind and Ice

Here's a collection of images from Mars showing unprecedented surface features.

The more we study Mars the more mysterious—and beautiful—the planet is in our eyes. A new batch of images snapped by ESA Mars Express spacecraft has revealed large-scale erosion on the surface of Mars caused by water, wind, and ice.

Images snapped by the High-Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) onboard the ESA Mars Express spacecraft, show a landscape that shows clear signs of erosion not only by water but wind and ice as well.

The Nilosyrtis Mensae region on Mars is known as “eroded terrain” and is characteristic of the transition zone between the highlands and the lowlands on Mars. Seen here are clear traces of erosion caused not only by water but ice and wind as well.

The numerous labyrinthine valleys that can be seen in the new images are typical of such areas.

A color view of the Niloysrtis Mesae region on Mas (Image 1). Image Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin / CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO.
A color view of the Niloysrtis Mesae region on Mas (Image 1). Image Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin / CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO.

HRSC has been mapping the red planet since 2004. The spacecraft was developed and is operated by the German Aerospace Center (DLR), which has recently published the new mages of the Martian surface, revealed peculiar characteristics of the red planet.

The Martian valley floors, especially in the northern parts of the recently captured images show linear structures that follow the course of the valley.

These ‘aligned valley fillings’ suggest that ice-containing material flowed slowly down the slopes of the valley and was found in the center of the valleys.

This image shows a topographic overview of the highland/lowland boundary at the Nilosyrtis Mensae region on Mars (Image 3). Image Credit: MOLA Science Team / FU Berlin.
This image shows a topographic overview of the highland/lowland boundary at the Nilosyrtis Mensae region on Mars (Image 3). Image Credit: MOLA Science Team / FU Berlin.

Interestingly, researchers have pointed out that such debris-covered glaciers are similar to rock glaciers found on Earth.

Rock glaciers consist of ice mixed with debris and rocks. On Earth, they are found mainly in high altitude permafrost regions or in polar latitudes.

The new images are indicators that glacier-shaped deposits are perhaps the remains of a receding ice sheet that covered the region during the past ice ages.

A 3D view of a part of the Nilosyrtis Mensae region (Image 4). Image: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO.
A 3D view of a part of the Nilosyrtis Mensae region (Image 4). Image: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO.

It is believed that previous climatic conditions on Mars possibly led to the displacement of large amounts of snow and ice on the plateaus and valleys.

The new images taken from orbit suggest that erosion caused by water and ice has left rounded peaks and plateaus in Nilosyrtis Mensae.

Many of the shapes shown in the image have a soft-edged appearance, which is attributed to extensive ice overprinting, experts revealed.

An ancient impact crater—as seen in images 1, 4 and 5 (to the right)—became less deep due to the erosion of its edges and the deposition of eroded material and sediments carried by the wind. The relief of the crater has now almost disappeared. The crater fill was in turn very eroded and carved, which gives it its current appearance.

Seen here is a topographic map of the rugged, heavily eroded region of Nilosyrtis Mensae (Image 5). Image Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO.
Seen here is a topographic map of the rugged region of Nilosyrtis Mensae (Image 5). Image Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO.

In contrast to the typical soft-edged terrain of this region, parts of the southwest show quite steep structures. A linear structure of sharp edges several kilometers long, running almost from north to south, is probably what is known as a dike.

This is the name given to a vertical cleft in the surrounding rock in which the magmatic rock has penetrated, and which now stands out on the surface due to its greater resistance to erosion.

To the west is a tangle of intersecting structures, which also have sharp edges.

These are probably solidified fillers of cracks in the rock.

Once the water filtered through this rock, it washed away several minerals, which then ‘fell’ into the cracks and solidified.

Furthermore. an ancient, now dry river valley in the south of the image was eroded by the constant dripping of groundwater, which can be seen from the wide semicircular heads of the valley.

At wider points at the bottom of the valley below, the smaller river courses have cut the linear valley fill. This points to repeated episodic river activity in this region.

To find out more images of the Martian surface, acquired by the High-Resolution Stereo Camera, check out DLR’s Mars Express Flickr gallery. Also, visit DLR’s Mars Express Mission site here.

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