Geologists finding a different Mars underneath

December 13, 2006
Geologists finding a different Mars underneath
This image shows a ground-range projection of the ‘radargram’ obtained by the MARSIS sounding radar on board ESA’s Mars Express on 6 July 2005 (orbit 1892), when the spacecraft was flying over the Martian lowland plains of Chryse Planitia. Rim walls and interior ring structures of impact basins produce parabolic-shaded echoes. The inset shows that parabolic-shaped echoes in the radargram project to circular arcs, indicating the presence of a buried impact basin. Credits: ESA/ASI/NASA/Univ. of Rome/JPL/Smithsonian

Scientists are finding an older, craggier face of Mars buried beneath the surface, thanks to pioneering sounding radar co-sponsored by NASA aboard the European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft.

In a paper published in the Dec. 14 issue of the journal Nature, researchers say radar echoes captured by the MARSIS (Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionospheric Sounding) instrument strongly suggest there are ancient impact basins buried beneath the lowland smooth plains of the Martian northern hemisphere.

The project is the first-ever exploration of a planet by sounding radar. The paper's lead author, MARSIS science team member Thomas R. Watters of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's Center for Earth and Planetary Studies, describes the work as “almost like having X-ray vision. Besides finding previously unknown impact basins, we've also confirmed that some of the subtle, roughly circular topographic depressions in the lowlands are related to impact features.”

The MARSIS instrument transmits radio waves that pass through the Martian surface and bounce off of features in the subsurface that have a contrast in electrical properties with the materials that buried them.

The difference in elevation and apparent age between the northern lowlands and southern highlands of Mars, known as the dichotomy, is among the most enduring mysteries about the geologic evolution of the planet. Watters says the new findings mean "that the northern lowland crust below the smooth plains is ancient, perhaps as ancient as the heavily cratered highland crust in the southern hemisphere.”

Martian lowland crust was buried first by vast amounts of volcanic lava and then by sediments carried by episodic flood waters and wind.

Source: Smithsonian

Explore further: Image: Radar footprints over buried Mars lake

Related Stories

Image: Radar footprints over buried Mars lake

August 27, 2018

ESA's Mars Express radar team recently made an exciting announcement: data from their instrument points to a pond of liquid water buried about 1.5 km below the icy south polar ice of Mars.

Radar Map of Buried Mars Layers Matches Climate Cycles

September 22, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- New, three-dimensional imaging of Martian north-polar ice layers by a radar instrument on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is consistent with theoretical models of Martian climate swings during the past ...

Mars radar missions seek data on water, ice caps, crust

March 6, 2006

Two Mars orbiter missions will open new vistas in the exploration of Mars through the use of sophisticated ground-penetrating radars, providing international researchers with the first direct clues about the Red Planet's ...

Recommended for you

Hyper Suprime-Cam survey maps dark matter in the universe

September 26, 2018

Today, an international group of researchers, including Carnegie Mellon University's Rachel Mandelbaum, released the deepest wide field map of the three-dimensional distribution of matter in the universe ever made and increased ...

Tracking the interstellar object 'Oumuamua to its home

September 25, 2018

A team of astronomers led by Coryn Bailer-Jones of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy has tracked the interstellar object 'Oumuamua to several possible home stars. The object was discovered in late 2017 – this was the ...

Four extremely young asteroid families identified

September 25, 2018

Four families of extremely young asteroids have been identified by researchers affiliated with São Paulo State University (UNESP) in Guaratinguetá, Brazil. An article on the discovery has been published in Monthly Notices ...

A new classification scheme for exoplanet sizes

September 24, 2018

There are about 4433 exoplanets in the latest catalogs. Their radii have generally been measured by knowing the radius of their host star and then closely fitting the lightcurves as the planet transits across the face of ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.