Category Archives: Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

Image Gallery: a heart in Ascraeus Mons

Interesting feature near the Ascraeus Mons volcano. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL / University of Arizona

Interesting feature near the Ascraeus Mons volcano. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL / University of Arizona

Mars has a lot of unusual geological features, and this new image from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is a good example of that. Somewhat heart-shaped, south of the Ascraeus Mons volcano on the Tharsis volcanic plateau. How did it form?

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Image Gallery: cracked dome

Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Click for larger version. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

An interesting circular mound in the Nilosyrtis region on Mars, photographed by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. How did the flat top get all cracked like that? Original images are here.

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Boulders provide new clues to ancient ocean on Mars

Illustration showing how the ancient Oceanus Borealis may have looked on Mars. Credit: ESA / C. Carreau

Illustration showing how the ancient Oceanus Borealis may have looked on Mars. Credit: ESA / C. Carreau

The possibility of an ancient Martian ocean is an enticing one, and there has been growing evidence that it did indeed exist (dubbed Oceanus Borealis), covering most of the northern hemisphere, and about a third of the planet, billions of years ago. Now, some new observations of boulders in what likely used to be the ocean bottom have given scientists additional clues as to what this ocean was like, it was announced this past Saturday (February 15, 2014).

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New evidence for possible flowing water on Mars

"Recurring slope lineae" (RSL) at Palikir Crater on Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

“Recurring slope lineae” (RSL) at Palikir Crater on Mars. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

The question of whether there could still be liquid water somewhere on Mars today is one of the most debated in planetary science, and now there is new evidence that there just might be. The findings were announced today, February 10, 2014, by scientists from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter mission.

The new results have to do with features on the Martian surface called “recurring slope lineae” (RSL), which are dark, narrow streaks on some slopes which flow downhill and can reoccur in the same locations over and over again. They tend to form during periods of warmer temperatures and look like small rivulets of water running downhill, but is that what they really are?

“We still don’t have a smoking gun for existence of water in RSL, although we’re not sure how this process would take place without water,” said Lujendra Ojha, a graduate student at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. He is the lead author of two new reports about the unusual flows.

In order to try and determine if these streaks are indeed water-related, Ojha and colleague James Wray examined RSLs at 13 known locations using images from the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) instrument on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

While not yet finding the spectral signature of water or salts, they did find them for ferric and ferrous iron-bearing minerals. The minerals are more abundant in the slope streaks and so thought to be left over from whatever process created the streaks. Two possible explanations are related to these, and both involve water: an increase in the more-oxidized (ferric) component of the minerals, or an overall darkening due to moisture, just like you see with wet sand or dirt. It is also possible that fine dust is being removed from the surface, which could involve either a wet process or a dry one.

According to Ojha, “Just like the RSL themselves, the strength of the spectral signatures varies according to the seasons. They’re stronger when it’s warmer and less significant when it’s colder.”

As to why water itself wasn’t detected yet, the spectral observations might easily miss them since the dark flows are much narrower than the area of ground sampled by CRISM.

The most likely explanation for the RSLs according to scientists though is still near-surface briny water or ice, which, during warmer periods, could leak out at the top of slopes and remain liquid long enough in the cold and thin atmosphere to flow down the slopes.

“The flow of water, even briny water, anywhere on Mars today would be a major discovery, impacting our understanding of present climate change on Mars and possibly indicating potential habitats for life near the surface on modern Mars,” said Richard Zurek, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project Scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.

This article was first published on Examiner.com.

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HiRISE: unusual mound in a mid-latitude crater

Interestingly patterned mound in an unnamed mid-latitude crater. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Interestingly patterned mound in an unnamed mid-latitude crater. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

This is an interesting new image from the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, first posted on Beautiful Mars on Tumblr. What caused the unusual patterning on this mound? It’s reminiscent of polygonal terrain created by the freezing/thawing of subsurface ice, but whether that is the same explanation here isn’t known. All of the thousands of images taken so far by MRO can be seen here.

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Unusual oval pit near Galaxias Chaos on Mars

Oval pit or crater with opening in the bottom, as photographed near Galaxias Chaos on Mars by the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Oval pit or crater with an opening in the bottom, as photographed near Galaxias Chaos on Mars by the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

This is interesting, a recent HiRISE photo from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft showing an oval pit or crater with an opening in the bottom (cropped here from one of the larger images) near Galaxias Chaos on Mars. The opening is also oval, and you can see some sand dunes on the bottom. How did it form? More images are available here.

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Ancient delta is newest evidence for Martian ocean

Topographic map from Mars Global Surveyor showing part of the lowlands region in the northern hemisphere (blue) which is thought to have once been an ocean. Credit: NASA / MOLA

Topographic map from Mars Global Surveyor showing part of the lowlands region in the northern hemisphere (blue) which is thought to have once been an ocean. Credit: NASA / MOLA

Whether or not Mars once had an ocean has been a subject of much debate for many years. There is substantial evidence pointing toward the possibility, but no “smoking gun” yet. Now, a new discovery from scientists at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) is fueling that debate again – an ancient delta that appears to have emptied into the hypothetical ocean in the northern hemisphere.

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Old Soviet Mars 3 lander discovered?

Set of images showing possible hardware from the Mars 3 landing in 1971. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / University of Arizona

Set of images showing possible hardware from the Mars 3 landing in 1971. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / University of Arizona

A “missing” Mars lander and its associated hardware from the 1970s may have finally been discovered in images taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The Soviet Mars 3 lander was the first successful landing on Mars by any spacecraft, but after transmitting for only 14.5 seconds after touchdown on December 2, 1971, it went silent and was never heard from again. Its exact landing site was unknown, but now may have finally been located after all these years.

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Rovers keeping an eye on Martian dust storm

Mosaic image showing the dust storm in the southern hemisphere of Mars as of November 18, 2012. The locations of the Curiosity and Opportunity rovers are also marked.
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Malin Space Science Systems

A large seasonal dust storm has been growing in the southern hemisphere of Mars over the last couple of weeks, and both rovers, Curiosity and Opportunity, have been monitoring its extent and progress, as well as Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter.

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Mount Sharp comes into sharp focus

High-resolution view of mesas in the foothills of Mount Sharp. The tiny speck inside the white box is a boulder about the same size as the rover. Click on image for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS

The Curiosity rover has returned yet more images of Mount Sharp, and these are the best and highest-resolution ones yet. Taken by the 100-millimeter Mastcam camera, they show the layering of the mesas in the foothills in incredible detail. Also note the tiny speck in the centre of the white box in the middle of the image (magnified in the bottom corner of the image); that is a boulder about the same size as the rover, which is car-sized, giving a sense of scale. These mesas are huge, and they are dwarfed by the rest of the mountain itself! The images above and below have been enhanced to show the colours as they would appear if they were on Earth. Click on the images for larger versions.

Another view, showing more of the foothills as well as terrain closer to the rover. Click on image for larger version.
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS

The image below is an orbital view from Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter showing the same region of foothills. This is where Curiosity will be driving later on; the mesas and canyons will be seen up close providing views never seen before by a rover on Mars. There is also a channel cutting through the middle portion of the image, which is thought to be an ancient riverbed. Other similar channels and their alluvial deposits can be seen elsewhere in this region. Click on the image for larger version and then click to zoom in.

Orbital view of mesas in the foothills of Mount Sharp. An ancient channel, thought to be a riverbed, cuts through the middle portion of the image. Click on image for larger version and then click to zoom in.
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS

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