Muddy Mars: new evidence for liquid water flows within past million years

Illustration of debris flows inside Istok crater on Mars, which have provided evidence of large amounts of flowing water and mud in the past. The flows are very similar to ones on Earth in Arctic regions such as Iceland. Image Credit: Nature Communications
Illustration of debris flows inside Istok crater on Mars, which have provided evidence of large amounts of flowing water and mud in the past. The flows are very similar to ones on Earth in Arctic regions such as Iceland. Image Credit: Nature Communications

The fact that Mars used to have large amounts of liquid water on its surface is pretty much accepted among scientists, but there is still the question of how long that water lasted. How long ago was it still present? A billion years? A few million? New evidence based on data from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) suggests that water was still on the surface within the past million years, perhaps even as recently as 500,000 years ago, which is indeed recent, geologically speaking.

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Buried glaciers have enough ice to cover entire surface of Mars, according to new study

Image of dust-covered glaciers on Mars from the High Resolution Stereo Camera on Mars Express. The glaciers are composed of water ice. Image Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin
Image of dust-covered glaciers on Mars from the High Resolution Stereo Camera on Mars Express. The glaciers are composed of water ice. Image Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin

When the topic of ice on Mars comes up, the first thing that usually comes to mind are the polar ice caps which are prominent even in small telescopes. There is, however, ice elsewhere on the planet as well, such as beneath the surface in the mid-latitudes, covered by dust. Now, a new study has revealed the extent of these subsurface glaciers and the amount of frozen water they contain.

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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

Mars may have once had active plate tectonics, new study says

Valles Marineris, the largest canyon system in the solar system. Is it evidence for early plate tectonics on Mars?
Credit: NASA

Plate tectonics are a geological phenomenon that, in our solar system, have long been thought to be unique to Earth. The Earth’s crust is broken into seven different major sections or “plates,” kind of like a cracked eggshell. These plates move around, slide against each other and even move above and below each other. Earthquakes are a common result of all of this activity.

Other planets and moons in our solar system haven’t shown evidence of this so far, even though some are volcanically active, like Jupiter’s moon Io for example (volcanic activity is possible without plate tectonics). Mars has huge shield volcanoes, but they are thought to have been extinct for millions or billions of years. A lack of crustal movement would explain why Mars’ volcanoes have tended to become so large, much bigger than any on Earth, since they remained in one spot and just kept growing instead of moving around.

But now a new report challenges this view of Mars, suggesting that it did once have active plate tectonics, but that the crust was divided into no more than two plates and that they moved much more slowly than those on Earth, due to Mars’ smaller size and cooling of its interior early in its history.

See Examiner.com for the full article.

High-resolution view inside Gale crater

A small portion of the “oblique view” image of Mount Sharp and surrounding terrain in Gale crater. Credit: NASA / JPL

A new “oblique view” image has been posted on the HiRISE website showing an area inside Gale crater, the landing spot of the Curiosity rover. The high-resolution image, taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, shows a portion of Mount Sharp and the surrounding terrain of layers, canyons, buttes and sand dunes. The viewing angle is 45˚, similar to looking out the window of an airplane. Zoom into the image to see all of the amazing detail!