Mars Orbiter Examines 'Lace' and 'Lizard Skin' Terrain

December 11, 2007
Mars Orbiter Examines 'Lace' and 'Lizard Skin' Terrain
Dark fans and bright fans on Mars. Image credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Scrutiny by NASA's newest Mars orbiter is helping scientists learn the stories of some of the weirdest landscapes on Mars, as well as more familiar-looking parts of the Red Planet.

One type of landscape near Mars' south pole is called "cryptic terrain" because it once defied explanation, but new observations bolster and refine recent interpretations of how springtime outbursts of carbon-dioxide gas there sculpt intricate patterns and paint seasonal splotches.

"A lot of Mars looks like Utah, but this is an area that looks nothing like Planet Earth," said Candice Hansen of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., deputy principal investigator for the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Mars Orbiter Examines 'Lace' and 'Lizard Skin' Terrain
This is a perspective view of a scene within Mars' Candor Chasma. It shows how the surface would appear to a person standing on top of one of the many hills in the region and facing southeast. Image credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

In addition to radially branching patterns called "spiders," which had been detected by an earlier Mars orbiter, other intriguing ground textures in the area appear in the new images. "In some places, the channels form patterns more like lace. In others, the texture is reminiscent of lizard skin," Hansen said.

Results from all six instruments on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which reached Mars last year, are described in dozens of presentations this week by planetary scientists in San Francisco at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

By taking stereo pictures of a target area from slightly different angles during different orbits, HiRISE can show the surface in three dimensions. Channels found to widen as they run uphill in the cryptic terrain region testify that the channels are cut by a gas, not a liquid.

Earlier evidence for jets of gas active in the region came from fan-shaped blotches appearing seasonally, which scientists interpret as material fallen to the surface downwind of vents where the gas escapes. Some of the fans are dark, others bright. "The dark fans are probably dust, but the exact composition of the brighter fans had remained unknown until now," said Tim Titus of the U.S. Geological Survey's Astrogeology Team, Flagstaff, Ariz.

Observations by the new orbiter's Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars suggest that the bright fans are composed of carbon-dioxide frost. Here's the story researchers now propose: Spring warms the ground under a winter-formed coating of carbon dioxide ice. Thawing at the base of the coating generates carbon-dioxide gas, which carves channels as it pushes its way under the ice to a weak spot where it bursts free. The jet of escaping gas carries dust aloft and also cools so fast from expanding rapidly that a fraction of the carbon dioxide refreezes and falls back to the surface as frost.

The processes creating the cryptic terrain are current events on Mars. Repeated HiRISE observations of the same target area show the downwind fans can form and grow perceptibly in less than five days.

Other new findings from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter reveal processes of Martian environments long ago. A team including Chris Okubo of the University of Arizona, Tucson, used stereo HiRISE images to examine layered deposits inside Mars' Candor Chasma, part of Valles Marineris, the largest canyon system in the solar system.

"The high-resolution structural map allowed us to interpret the geological history of the area," Okubo said. "The layers are tilted in a way that tells us they are younger than the canyon." Spectrometer studies of the composition of these deposits had indicated water played a role in their formation, but their age relative to the formation of the canyon had been uncertain. The new findings suggest water was present after the canyon formed.

Source: NASA

Explore further: MAVEN spacecraft gears up to observe global dust storm on Mars

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7 comments

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Birdlady
1.7 / 5 (3) Dec 12, 2007
I find the above comment to mirror my feelings.
NASA has been hiding the truth from us for years
and years, since they were first organized. I am
always interested in seeing the pictures, but I
am seldom surprised by them. Birdlady
JohnSawyer
3.3 / 5 (4) Dec 12, 2007
That damn NASA, always hidin' stuff from us. They hold all the cards. And best of all, all I need to prove this is to believe in what people like Richard Hoagland tell us. It's just IMPOSSIBLE for things to look unusual on other planets, without it being definite proof that aliens are involved, or that Jules Verne got there first.
MrGrynch
1 / 5 (3) Dec 12, 2007
Many of the unexplainable features found on Mars and other planetary bodies are easily explainable as electrical phenomenon. Victoria Crater will yield many surprises with respect to our current "understanding" of geological processes.

http://www.thunde...ters.htm
MarsArtifactResearch
1 / 5 (2) Dec 12, 2007
Cento57,
You're damned straight! There most certainly was, and may still be a civilization on Mars. I have on line officially documented 190 artifacts and structures, and other things such as plants and fossils.
Right now I am dealing with a death threat related somewhat to my research...
Magog
1.5 / 5 (2) Dec 12, 2007
Google "Operation Paperclip" to get an idea of how NASA was formed. Also google I.G. Farben and Prescott Bush.
out7x
2 / 5 (2) Dec 13, 2007
Read Squires Book. Mars probably had a primeval atmosphere and water that dissipated due to low gravity. Beyond that, unknown.
quantum_flux
not rated yet Dec 16, 2007
Why would people think that NASA would have to hide information from the public if they found intelligent life!? Finding intelligent life is part of the reason why American taxpayers are so willing to keep on supporting NASA in the first place.

Also, if we did find some civilized alien race, then NASA would have reverse engineered their technology by now and everyone on Earth would be driving flying saucers to and from work.... they'd be easier to park in a parking spot and mid-air collisions could easily be avoided by magnetic repelling technologies.

The point is that we haven't found these supposed aliens yet, but maybe with a larger budget we will! So far, the most intelligent species known, next to mankind, is chimpanzies and dolphins.

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