Bright ‘tower’ in Mars orbiter image: Anomaly or natural formation?

The bright object seen by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Daily Mail

With thousands of images taken by various probes sent to Mars, it would seem inevitable that unusual or puzzling objects might be seen in some of them. And of course, there have been, most notably the famous “Face on Mars” first seen in low-resolution Viking orbiter images in the 1970s. Higher-resolution images taken later by other orbiters with better cameras showed it, and nearby interesting formations, to be just natural hills and mesas. Despite that, other curious things are seen in both orbital and ground images from time to time, although they almost always have a simple prosaic explanation. Another such oddity was just recently seen in an image taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), which has attracted some attention. Most likely it is a natural rock formation, but it’s also not, as described by the tabloid Daily Mail, a “spherule” either.

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Image Gallery: Conical hill and sand dunes in Ganges Chasma

Photo Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
Conical hill and sand dunes in Ganges Chasma. Click for larger image. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Another odd but beautiful image of Mars, showing a cone-shaped hill with sand dunes wrapping around it. The formation is in the Ganges Chasma region, and the image was taken by the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Mars has a lot of diverse geology, and this is another good example of that. Original images are here.

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Ten years at Mars: Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter celebrates a decade of discovery

Illustration of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) as it entered orbit ten years ago. Image Credit: NASA/JPL
Illustration of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) as it entered orbit ten years ago. Image Credit: NASA/JPL

The Martian rover Opportunity has become famous for its amazing longevity, but it is not the only one; orbiting spacecraft also usually enjoy long lifespans, and today the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is celebrating its 10th year exploring Mars from above. It has helped to revolutionize our understanding of Mars and its complex geological history as well as, of course, sending back thousands of incredible high-res images of the Martian surface.

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The saline slopes of Mars: NASA confirms evidence for flowing liquid water

False-colour image of RSL on slopes in Hale crater. The blue colour is thought not to be related to their formation, but instead are from the presence of the mineral pyroxene. The image is produced by draping an orthorectified (Infrared-Red-Blue/Green(IRB)) false colour image (ESP_030570_1440) on a Digital Terrain Model (DTM) of the same site produced by High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (University of Arizona). Vertical exaggeration is 1.5. Image Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
False-colour image of RSL on slopes in Hale crater. The blue colour is thought not to be related to their formation, but instead are from the presence of the mineral pyroxene. The image is produced by draping an orthorectified (Infrared-Red-Blue/Green(IRB)) false colour image (ESP_030570_1440) on a Digital Terrain Model (DTM) of the same site produced by High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (University of Arizona). Vertical exaggeration is 1.5.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

In a finding that is sure to fuel the ongoing debate about possible life on Mars, NASA announced yesterday the confirmation that intriguing seasonal dark streaks running down Sun-facing slopes are indeed flows of liquid water. The water is salty (briny), but just the fact that it is current liquid water, albeit transient and in relatively small amounts, is still big news.

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New study helps answer mystery of what happened to Mars’ early atmosphere

Mars used to have a thicker atmosphere and water on its surface, but what happened to that atmosphere has been a mystery. New research may finally help answer that question. Image Credit: M. Kornmesser/ESO
Mars used to have a thicker atmosphere and water on its surface, but what happened to that atmosphere has been a mystery. New research may finally help answer that question. Image Credit: M. Kornmesser/ESO

The question of how Mars changed from a once wet world to the much colder and drier one we see today is one that scientists have been trying to answer for a long time. There is plenty of evidence that Mars use to have lakes and rivers, and perhaps even oceans. But what happened to change that? Now, a new study might bring us one step closer to solving this conundrum.

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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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