Tributes to wetter times on Mars

July 13, 2017, European Space Agency
Libya Montes colour view. Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

A dried-out river valley with numerous tributaries is seen in this recent view of the Red Planet captured by ESA's Mars Express.

This section of the Libya Montes , which sits on the equator at the boundary of the southern highlands and northern lowlands, was imaged on 21 February 2017 by the spacecraft's high-resolution stereo camera.

The Libya Montes highlands mountains, one of the oldest regions on Mars, were uplifted during the formation of the 1200 km-wide Isidis impact basin some 3.9 billion years ago, seen at the north of the context map.

The features seen across the broader region indicate both flowing rivers and standing bodies of water such as lakes or even seas that were present in the early history of Mars.

The prominent river channel that runs from south to north (left to right in the main colour image) is thought to have cut through the region around 3.6 billion years ago. It apparently originates from the in the south, breaching its crater wall and flowing towards the north, navigating the hummocky mountains of the local topography. 

The valley is fed by numerous tributaries, pointing to extensive rainfall and surface runoff from higher to lower regions. Groundwater seepage is also thought to have played a contribution in shaping the valley. A similar channel snakes its way across the bottom right of the scene.

Libya Montes in context. Credit: NASA MGS MOLA Science Team

The mineralogy in the Libya Montes region is very diverse, as revealed by orbiting spacecraft. Aqueously formed and chemically altered minerals testify to past hydrothermal activity that may be linked to the formation of the Isidis impact basin.  For example, the impact could have mobilised by melting subsurface ice that subsequently interacted with the ancient, volcanic mountain rocks.

Numerous craters in various states of degradation pockmark the entire scene, testament to the region's long history. Perhaps the most noticeable craters are the two situated side by side close to the centre of the scene, their breached crater walls connecting them and giving the appearance of a figure of eight shape.

Another interesting crater lies to the left, nestled into the side of a hummocky mountain. Inevitably, its rim collapsed onto the valley floor beneath. Further left again, and a small crater has imprinted into the larger, wider , punching through to deeper layers below.

Libya Montes topography. Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin

The rich diversity of geologic features in this region – and in this image alone – showcases the dynamic environment the planet has witnessed through time, evolving from a warmer wetter climate that enabled liquid water to flow freely across the surface, to the arid world that we see today.

Explore further: Window to a watery past on Mars

Related Stories

Image: The Niagara Falls of Mars

June 29, 2017

Various researchers are often preoccupied with the quest for flowing water on Mars. However, this image from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), shows one of the many examples from Mars where lava (when it was molten) ...

Frosty martian valleys

March 24, 2016

Nestled within the fractured rim of a vast impact basin on Mars are valley floors dusted in frost.

Forces of martian nature

July 11, 2014

The surface of Mars is pocked and scarred with giant impact craters and rocky ridges, as shown in this new image from ESA's Mars Express that borders the giant Hellas basin in the planet's southern hemisphere.The Hellas basin, ...

Recommended for you

New research challenges existing models of black holes

January 19, 2018

Chris Packham, associate professor of physics and astronomy at The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), has collaborated on a new study that expands the scientific community's understanding of black holes in our galaxy ...

Neutron-star merger yields new puzzle for astrophysicists

January 18, 2018

The afterglow from the distant neutron-star merger detected last August has continued to brighten - much to the surprise of astrophysicists studying the aftermath of the massive collision that took place about 138 million ...

New technique for finding life on Mars

January 18, 2018

Researchers demonstrate for the first time the potential of existing technology to directly detect and characterize life on Mars and other planets. The study, published in Frontiers in Microbiology, used miniaturized scientific ...

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.