Reconstructing glaciers on Mars

Post by Dr. Stephen Brough, School of Geography, Politics and Sociology, Newcastle University, UK.

There exist thousands of putative debris-covered glaciers in the mid-latitudes of Mars (e.g. Souness et al., 2012; Levy et al., 2014). Much like their terrestrial counterparts, many of these glaciers have undergone mass loss and recession since a former glacial maximum stand (e.g. Kargel et al., 1995; Dickson et al, 2008) (Image 1). However, there is a lack of knowledge regarding the volume of ice lost since that time and whether such recession has been spatially variable. Reconstructing glacial environments based on their landforms and structural assemblage is a powerful concept applied in terrestrial glaciology. Through utilising evidence left on the landscape with observations from modern glaciers, it is possible to reconstruct the extent and dynamics of both former (glaciated) and modern (glacierised) glacial environments (see Bennett and Glasser, 2009). This month’s planetary geomorphology post investigates how similar techniques have been utilised to reconstruct the former extent of glaciers on our planetary neighbour, Mars.

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Image 1: Glacier recession on Earth and Mars. (a – b) Location of martian glacier in the Phlegra Montes region of Mars’ northern hemisphere (~164.48 oE, ~34.13 oN). Background is MOLA elevation overlain on THEMIS-IR daytime image. (c) Near terminus Context Camera (CTX) image expansion of Phlegra Montes martian glacier. White arrows indicate arcuate ridges in glacier forefield that occupies the southern half of image. Subset of CTX image P16_007368_2152_XN_35N195W. (d) The forefield of terrestrial Midre Lovénbreen, Svalbard, is shown for comparison. White arrows indicate arcuate terminal moraine indicating the glacier’s former expanded extent. Modified from Hubbard et al., 2014.

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Sandstone outcrops seen with the ExoMars PanCam emulator

Post by Dr. Peter Fawdon, (@DrPfawdon) School of Physical Sciences, The Open University, United Kingdom

PanCam (Coates et al., 2017) is the imaging instrument on the 2020 ExoMars rover and consists of two wide angle cameras; (WAC’s) and a High Resolution Camera (HRC). PanCam will be used to lead the geological characterisation of the local area outcrops. It will be used to establishing the geological setting of outcrops and identify targets for subsurface sampling and analysis with the ExoMars drill and suite of analytical instruments (Vago et al., 2017).

An emulator for the ExoMars PanCam instrument has been used in rover operation field trials in southern Spain. The aim of these trials has been to explore how scientists will use the instruments in rover missions. These images, taken by the emulator, are examples of what PanCam data might look like and show how the PanCam images will be used (e.g., Harris et al., 2015).

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Image 1: PanCam Multi-spectral images: (A) A colour composite made from the red, green and blue filters shows a ridge named ‘Glengoyne’ at approximately 20 m distance from the rover. (B) A Multi spectral image using the geology filters stretched to emphasise the variation in the scene.

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Universality of delta bifurcations

Post by Dr. Robert C. Mahon, Department of Earth and Environmental Science, University of New Orleans

Which morphologic features of sedimentary systems persist into the stratigraphic record? Ancient river deltas preserved as stratigraphic deposits on both Earth and Mars exhibit remarkable morphologic similarities to modern deltas on Earth (Images 1-3). While channel dynamics may be expected to alter the geomorphic expressions of past channel networks, in many cases channel bodies appear to be preserved in their original configurations. Fully understanding the ways in which geomorphic features become preserved as stratigraphy can provide tools for us to both infer past processes from the ancient deposits with greater confidence, as well as to predict the geometries of ancient deposits in the subsurface (i.e. for resource exploration).

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Image 1: CTX image mosaic of a delta in the Aeolis region of Mars, showing distributary channel networks. CTX imagery courtesy of NASA-MRO/JPL/UA.

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The Largest Delta on Mars?

Post by Jacob Adler, School of Earth and Space Exploration, Arizona State University.

Ancient river deltas are found in many locations on Mars [see Di Achile & Hynek, 2010 and references therein], and are formed as sediment drops out of suspension in water as it approaches a wider shoreline of a lake, sea, or (debatably) an ocean. Some proposed deltas on Mars are found in closed basins (e.g. an impact crater) away from the Martian dichotomy boundary, implying an ancient climate during which the crater ponded with water [e.g. Eberswalde or Jezero]. Occasionally, inlet and outlet river valleys are seen at different elevations along the crater rim, lending further evidence to the hypothesis that the crater filled with liquid water at least up to the outlet elevation. Deltas found in open basins, on the other hand, imply a larger body of standing water, and Mars scientists look for other clues to support the deltaic rather than alluvial fan formation mechanism. In our recent papers, we tested whether the Hypanis fan-shaped deposit (Image 1) could be a delta, and discussed whether this supports the hypothesis that there was once a large sea or ocean in the Northern plains of Mars [Adler et al., 2018; Fawdon et al., 2018].

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Image 1: a) The Hypanis deposit stands out as light-toned in the center of this Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) Context Camera (CTX) mosaic of our study region. Also marked are Lederberg crater, and the Sabrina deposit in the closed basin of Magong crater. (b) Hypanis and Sabrina have a low nighttime temperature (dark) as recorded by the THEMIS instrument on Mars Odyssey, suggesting it is mostly composed of small grain size material. Image from the Nighttime IR 100m Global Mosaic v14.0 [Hill et al. (2014); Edwards (2011)] and from the Northern Hypanis Valles Night IR Mosaic [Fergason (2009)]. NASA/JPL/ASU. (c) Our proposed fluvial sequence discussed in the paper. Main lobe (A) could once have had continuous layered beds spanning to the distal island deposits (E). The cross-cutting relationships we observed are consistent with hypothesized shoreline regression to the north. Flow migrated to the northern lobe (B), then to braided inverted channels (C and D) as water retreated. NASA/MSSS/USGS. d) Our digital elevation mosaic shows the topography of Hypanis and surrounding features. Elevations are colored from white (-2500 m) to light green (-2800 m).

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Measuring Cross-Bed Geometry in Upper Aeolis Mons, Gale Crater, Mars

Post by Dr. Ryan B. Anderson, Astrogeology Science Center, United States Geological Survey

One of the most environmentally diagnostic features of sedimentary rocks is cross-bedding, which occurs when sediment is transported by wind, water, or volcanic processes, resulting in horizontal strata composed of inclined beds. The geometry of cross-bedded sedimentary deposits provides information about the depositional setting and post-depositional history of the rocks, making the identification, measurement, and interpretation of cross-beds particularly interesting on Mars, where past conditions are of great scientific interest. This post describes cross-bedding in Upper Aeolis Mons in Gale crater (Image 1).

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Image 1: Example of complex bedding patterns in upper Aeolis Mons, interpreted to be large-scale aeolian cross beds. Image is an inset of HiRISE observation PSP_001620_1750.

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Enigmatic Normal Faults on Ceres

Post by Kynan Hughson, Department of Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles, USA.

Since March of 2015 NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has been actively exploring the main asteroid belt’s largest member and only dwarf planet in the inner solar system: Ceres. Situated around two fifths of the way between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, Ceres is gargantuan compared to its neighbors. With a mean diameter of ~946 km (approximately the width of the state of Texas) and a bulk density of ~2.16 g/cm3 it comprises around one third of the mass of the entire main belt. Dawn’s continuing examination of this unique object since March 2015 has revealed a geologically diverse world covered with geomorphological features common to both rocky inner solar system planets and icy outer solar system satellites (e.g. Bland et al., 2016; Schmidt et al., 2017; Fu et al., 2017). These observations have exacerbated Ceres’ refusal to be neatly categorized as either a rocky or icy planet.

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Image 1: A rotating aerial view of Nar Sulcus (centered at approximately 79.9 °W, 41.9 °S). Note the two nearly perpendicular sets of fractures. In particular, note the imbricated blocks within the longer fracture set. The longer fracture set is approximately 45 km long, and the deepest valleys are ~400 m deep. This scene was created using a stereophotogrammetrically (SPG) derived elevation model (vertical resolution ~15 m) and high resolution (~35 m/pixel) Dawn framing camera mosaics (Roatsch et al., 2016a; Roatsch et al., 2016b), which are available on the Small Bodies Node of NASA’s Planetary Data System.

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What is happening in Titan’s equatorial belt?

Post by Jeremy BrossierDeutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR), Institute of Planetary Research, Berlin, Germany.

During the last thirteen years (2004 – 2017), the Cassini-Huygens mission allowed a real revolution in the exploration of Titan, the largest moon of Saturn. This mission has revealed that Titan is – in many aspects – very similar to Earth. Titan is a frozen version of Earth, where methane behaves as water, and water ice may be as hard as rock. Despite its strange characteristics, Titan undergoes a rich variety of surface processes that are likewise analogous to those on our planet. Titan being entirely shrouded by a dense atmosphere made of dinitrogen, methane and solid organic particles (i.e. tholins), direct observation of its surface is only possible through radar data, as well as infrared data within specific wavelengths intervals. SAR images from the radar, allowed identifying various landscapes on the moon (see Image 1), and evaluating their global distribution, notably for the lakes and dunes. Lakes are mostly confined around the poles, while the dunes dominate the equatorial belt. Thus, the shape of Titan’s surface seems quite well understood thank to SAR images, however, it is crucial to determine not only the morphology, but also the nature of the material composing or coating the various landscapes to better understand the geology of this intriguing moon.

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Image 1: A few examples of Titan’s landscapes seen through SAR images, including (A) mountain chains embayed by plains, (B) undifferentiated plains, (C) impact crater, (D) dunes, (E) river channels, (F) small lakes, and (G) a close up of the second largest sea, namely Ligeia Mare. SAR images were acquired during Titan flybys (A, B) T43 in May 2008, (C) T77 in June 2011, (D) T21 in Dec. 2006, (E) T44 in May 2008, (F) T19 in Oct. 2006, and finally (G) T28 in April 2007. Note that Titan flybys are tagged with the abbreviated target name “T” and the flyby number.

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Morphological Evidence that Titan’s Southern Hemisphere Basins are Paleoseas

Post by Samuel Birch, Cornell University, Ithaca, USA.

Titan is the only body in the solar system, besides the Earth, known to currently have standing bodies of liquids on its surface [Stofan et al., 2007]. Presently, liquids are restricted to the polar regions (>50o) with liquid bodies in the North encompassing 35 times more area as compared to the South [Hayes et al., 2011; Birch et al., 2017a]. Apsidal precession of Titan’s obliquity over ~100,000 year cycles, analogous to the Earth’s Croll-Milankovitch cycles, likely forces liquids from pole-to-pole, and has been invoked as a physically plausible mechanism to account for the dichotomy [Aharonson et al., 2009]. General circulation models support such a mechanism, as Titan’s current orbital configuration produces more intense, high-latitude, baroclinic eddies over the southern hemisphere, preferentially depositing more liquid at the northern pole [Lora & Mitchell, 2015]. These models, therefore, imply that the presence of northern liquids is transient over geologic timescales. Large basins able to accommodate ~70,000 km3 of liquid methane and ethane [Hayes, 2016] are required when orbital and climatic conditions become favorable for the accumulation of southern seas. Our study [Birch et al. 2017b] identifies four large basins, all of which show morphological evidence for having been formerly filled by liquids.

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Image 1: Polar stereographic projection of SAR image data of the South polar region extending out to 60o latitude. SAR image data includes all flybys up to and including T98. A mosaic of ISS data underlays the SAR mosaic. The perimeters of the four basins that we identified are highlighted in yellow.

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Stepped Fans and Phyllosilicates on Mars

Post by Peter Grindrod, Natural History Museum, London, UK.

A number of different studies have catalogued features on Mars that could be given the general heading of sedimentary fans [e.g. Irwin et al., 2005; Kraal et al. 2008]. These features occur whenever the velocity of a river or stream decreases, and the water no longer has enough energy to carry its sediment, and thus begins to deposit its load. This drop in energy often occurs when the water flows into flatter and wider regions. The distribution of these fans on Mars is important because it shows the location of past water flows, and the amount of material that has been transported (which can be used as a proxy for flow duration).

However, one of the fundamental problems when looking at these features with orbital data alone, is that it is difficult to determine whether the river flowed into a standing body of water (for example a lake) or just an empty canyon or crater. Of course, the implications of this problem are important if we want to understand the volume and distribution of past water on Mars, which in themselves feed into understanding the past climate and even habitability of Mars.

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Image 1: Location of the two fans in Coprates Catena, SE Valles Marineris. MOLA elevation overlain on THEMIS daytime image.

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Geologically recent glacial melting on Mars

Post by Frances. E. G. Butcher, School of Physical Sciences, Open University, UK.

Thousands of putative debris-covered glaciers in Mars’ middle latitudes host water ice in volumes comparable to that of all glaciers and ice caps on Earth, excluding the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets (Levy et al., 2014). These glaciers formed within the last 100 million to 1 billion years of Mars’ geological history (Berman et al., 2015), a period that is thought to have been similarly cold and hyper-arid to present-day Mars. This is broadly corroborated by a sparsity of evidence for melting of these geologically ‘young’ mid-latitude glaciers, which suggests that they have always been entirely frozen to their beds in ‘cold-based’ thermal regimes, and haven’t generated meltwater (e.g. Marchant and Head, 2007). Nevertheless, this months’ planetary geomorphology image provides evidence for melting of one such glacier.

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Image 1: An esker emerging from the tongue of a debris-covered glacier in Tempe Terra, Mars. See Image 2 for an annotated 3D view of this scene. The dashed white line delineates the terminus of the debris-covered glacier, which occupies the southern and eastern portions of the image. The white arrow marked A indicates the first emergence of the crest of the esker ridge from the glacier surface. The white arrow marked A’ indicates the northernmost end of the esker ridge in the deglaciated zone beyond the ice terminus. Context Camera image P05_002907_2258_XN_45N083W (Malin et al., 2007). Modified from Butcher et al., 2017 under a Creative Commons license CC BY 4.0.

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Enigmatic Clastic Polygons on Mars

Post by Laura Brooker, Open University, Milton Keynes, UK.

Polygonal ground of centimetre- to decametre-scale is one of the most common features found in cold-climate regions on Earth and on Mars. Polygonal shapes on Earth can form through a number of different processes including the thermal contraction of ice-cemented soils, forming fracture patterns known as thermal contraction polygons, through the freezing and thawing of ground ice moving clasts, in the case of sorted patterned ground, or through the dehydration of volatile-rich material, termed desiccation polygons. Around a large crater found in the northern latitudes of Mars, named Lyot, we observe stunning and unusually large clastic polygons (Image 1), but how do they form? To understand landforms on Mars we turn to analogues on Earth and compare morphological data to look for similarities and differences.

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Image 1: HiRISE (ESP_016985_2315) image of clastic polygonal ground observed to the north east of Lyot crater, Mars. These enigmatic polygons are demarcated by clastic material in their borders and are averagely 130 metres in diameter. Image credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona.

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Active gullies on Mars

Post by Dr. Colin Dundas, U.S. Geological Survey, Astrogeology Science Center

Martian “gullies” are a class of landforms on steep slopes, characterized by an upper alcove and a depositional apron, linked by a channel. On Earth, similar features would likely be termed ravines or alluvial fans. The Martian features usually appear geomorphically fresh, with sharply defined channels and no superposed impact craters. Changes were first detected in Martian gullies over a decade ago, and such observations have become more common as high-resolution repeat image coverage has expanded. This current activity correlates with seasonal frost (which is mostly CO2 on Mars) and has resulted in substantial modification of some gullies, leading to a debate over whether CO2 alone is sufficient to form them without liquid water.

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Image 1: Subsection of HiRISE image ESP_023809_1415 (https://www.uahirise.org/ESP_023809_1415) at reduced resolution, providing context and an overview of the gully system. North is up and light is from the upper left.

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Creepy stuff – possible solifluction on Mars

Post contributed by Andreas Johnsson, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

Small-scale lobes on Mars (Fig. 1) are tens to hundreds of meters wide and consist of an arcuate frontal riser that is a meter to meters in height and a tread surface (Johnsson et al., 2012) (Fig. 2). The riser is often, but not always, outlined by clasts visible at HiRISE resolution (50-25 cm/pixel; McEwen et al., 2007). They are found on crater slopes in the martian middle and high latitudes in both hemispheres (e.g., Gallagher et al., 2011; Johnsson et al., 2012; 2017) .

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Figure 1. Subset of HiRISE image PSP_008141_2440 (lat: 63.78°N/long: 292.32°E) showing multiple clast-banked lobes in an unnamed 16-km diameter crater (white arrow). Note the degraded gully system (black arrows) and lobes inside the alcove area.

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Small martian landslides – are they similar to large landslides on Earth?

Post contributed by Susan J. Conway and Anthony Guimpier, CNRS Laboratoire de Planétologie et Géodynamique à Nantes, France.

Landslides have been documented on almost all the solid bodies of the solar system and Mars is no exception. The most famous landslides on Mars are the giant landslides in the Valles Marineris, which were discovered in the images returned by the first Mars Orbiter “Mariner 9” launched in 1971 (Lucchitta, 1979). They have volumes typically ranging from 108-1013 m3 (McEwen 1989; Quentin et al. 2004; Brunetti et al. 2014) and have been found to have occurred periodically since the canyon’s formation 3.5 billion years ago (Quantin et al. 2004). The largest size of terrestrial landslides generally only extends to 108 m3 (McEwen 1989; Quentin et al. 2004).

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Image 1: Oblique views of small landslides on Mars. Top: Landslide in Chyrse Choas in HiRISE image PSP_005701_1920 draped over 2 m/pix elevation model. Crater just in front of the landslide is 70 m in diameter and the landslide from crest to toe spans 900 m in elevation. The largest boulders are nearly 40 m in diameter. Bottom: Landslide in Capri Chasma in HiRISE image ESP_035831_1760 draped over 2 m/pix elevation model. Crater on slope is 270 m across and the landslide from crest to toe spans ~1 km of elevation. The largest boulders are just over 30 m in diameter.

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A Wunda-full world? Carbon dioxide ice deposits on Umbriel and other moons of Uranus

Post contributed by Dr. Mike Sori, Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, University of Arizona

Uranus and its moons have only ever been visited by one spacecraft, Voyager 2, which flew by the system in 1986.  One of its large moons, Umbriel, was found to have a mysterious bright ring 80-km-wide inside a 131-km-diameter crater named Wunda.  Image 1 shows Umbriel and this annulus-shaped feature.

 

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Image 1: Voyager 2 image 1334U2-001 showing the Uranian moon Umbriel; note the bright ring inside the crater Wunda at top of the image (which is at Umbriel’s equator).

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Pit chains on Enceladus

Post contributed by Dr. Emily S. Martin, Research Fellow, Center for Earth and Planetary Studies, National Air & Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution.

Pit chains are linear assemblages of circular to elliptical pits and have been observed across the solar system. Pit chains have been found on Venus, Earth, Mars, Phobos, Eros, Gaspra, Ida, and Vesta. Across the solar system, pit chains may form through a variety of mechanisms including the collapse of lava tubes, karst, venting, extensional fracturing, or dilational faulting. Saturn’s tiny icy moon Enceladus is the first body of the outer solar system on which pit chains have been identified. Enceladus is only 500 km in diameter and is best known for its warm south pole and its watery plume emanating from prominent ridges known as tiger stripes. The source of the plume is likely a global liquid water ocean beneath an icy shell.

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Image 1: The morphology of pit chains across the solar system. a. Eros from NEAR. Image no. 135344864. b. Phobos. Image PIA10367. c. Albalonga Catena, Vesta. d. Venus. Right-look Magellan data near 13°S, 112°E. e. Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii centered at 19.3909°N 155.3076°W. Image taken 12/06/2014, acquired from Google Earth on 04/20/2016. f. Ida, modified from image PIA00332. g. Gaspra, modified from Galileo image PIA00332. h. Pit chains in north-eastern Iceland centered near 65.9902°N and 16.5301°W. Image taken on 7/27/2012, acquired from Google Earth 04/20/2016. i. Pit chains on Mars from the Mars Global Surveyor Mars Orbiter Camera, centered near 6.5398°S and 119.9703°W on the flank of Arsia Mons. Image PIA02874.

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Global stereo topography of Jupiter’s moon Io

Post contributed by Oliver White, Search for Extraterrestial Intelligence Institute.

Io is the innermost Galilean satellite of Jupiter, and with over 400 active volcanoes, it is the most volcanically active body in the Solar System, a consequence of tidal heating from friction generated within its interior as it is pulled between Jupiter and other Galilean satellites. Constant volcanic resurfacing means that the oldest surface is likely not more than a million years old (Williams et al., 2011). No instrumentation specifically designed to measure topography has ever been deployed to Io, but White et al. (2014) constructed a global digital elevation model (DEM) covering ~75% of Io’s surface from all available stereo coverage in Voyager and Galileo imaging, and controlled it using Galileo limb profiles (Image 1). This map represents a continuous topographic dataset that has revealed topographic variations not otherwise apparent in Voyager and Galileo imaging and limb profiles, and which may be correlated with geologic units (e.g. Williams et al., 2011). While not providing coverage across the entire globe, the map stands as the most comprehensive continuous topographic data set of Io’s surface, at least until a spacecraft arrives at Io with a dedicated photogrammetric camera or a laser altimeter on board.

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Image 1: Global stereo DEM overlain on a mosaic of Voyager and Galileo images in simple cylindrical projection at
2 km/pixel. Gaps in the DEM represent masked noise or absence of stereo coverage. A broad smoothing filter has been applied to the plains areas of the DEM post-mosaicking but not to comparatively high relief features such as mountains, layered plains, and some paterae (volcanic craters). The width of the map at the equator is 11,445 km.

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Terraced Craters Reveal Buried Ice Sheet on Mars

Post contributed by A.M. Bramson, Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, University of Arizona

When an object impacts into layered material, it can form a crater with terraces in the crater’s walls at the layer boundaries, rather than the simple bowl-shape that is expected. The shock wave generated by the impact can more easily move the weaker material and so the crater is essentially wider in that layer, and smaller in the underlying stronger material. From overhead, these concentric terraces give the appearance of a bullseye. Craters with this morphology were noticed on the moon back in the 1960s with the terracing attributed to a surface regolith layer. More recently, numerous terraced craters have been found across a region of Mars called Arcadia Planitia that we think is due to a widespread buried ice sheet.

 

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Image 1: A terraced crater with diameter of 734 meters located at 46.58°N, 194.85°E, in the Arcadia Planitia region of Mars. This 3D perspective was made by Ali Bramson with HiRISE Digital Terrain Model DTEEC_018522_2270_019010_2270_A01. Using this 3D model, we were able to measure the depth to the terraces, and therefore the thicknesses of the subsurface layers that cause the terracing.

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The subsurface as the key to surface on Martian gullies

Post by Dr. T. de Haas, Department of Geography, Durham University.

Martian gullies are composite landforms that comprise an alcove, channel and depositional fan. They are very young geological features, some of which have been active over the last million years. Water-free sediment flows, likely triggered by CO2 sublimation, debris flows, and fluvial flows have all been hypothesized to have formed gullies. These processes require very different amounts of liquid water, and therefore their relative contribution to gully-formation is of key importance for climatic inferences. Formative inferences based on surface morphology may be biased however, because of substantial post-depositional modification (Images 1-3).

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Image 1: Morphometry, morphology and stratigraphy of depositional landforms in Galap crater. (a) Overview and digital elevation model of Galap crater. (b) Detail of northwestern slope showing gradients of catchment and depositional fan. (c) Detail of proximal fan surface. (d) Detail of distal fan surface. (e) Detail of fan surface with incised channels; the dashed line indicates the rockfall limit. (f) Example of stratigraphic section. (h) Same stratigraphic section as in f, but with optimized contrast in the section. Arrows denote downslope direction. HiRISE image PSP_003939_1420.

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Cryovolcanic flows on Ceres

Post contributed by Dr. Katrin Krohn, German Aerospace Center, Institute of Planetary Research

The dwarf planet Ceres is a weakly differentiated body with a shell dominated by an ice-rock mixture and ammoniated phyllosilicates, which has a variety of flow features visible on its surface. Flow features are common features on planetary surfaces and they indicate the emplacement of viscous material. Many of the observed flows on Ceres originate from distinct sources within crater interiors and on crater flanks.

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Image 1: LAMO FC mosaic of Haulani crater. A: Well-defined smooth lobes (LAMO FC21A0049392_16002071420F1F.IMG). B: Multiple flow stages on western crater flank (FC21A0046469_15350155540F1C.IMG).

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Sedimentary basins on Mars, they contain a lot more sediments than we thought!

Post contributed by Dr. Francesco Salese, Italian Space Agency

The nature of the early Martian climate is one of the major unanswered questions of planetary science. To date the geologic evidence that Mars once had large amounts of surface liquid water is conclusive, but geomorphic constraints on the duration for which that water flowed are much weaker. In addition, much of the geochemical evidence points towards surface conditions that were not warm and wet for long time periods. The evidence points towards a hydrological cycle that was intermittent and not permanently active 3.8 billion years ago. However, in a recently published article myself and colleagues report that flowing water and aqueous environments formed thick, widespread sedimentary plains 3.8 billion years ago in the northern rim of the Hellas basin on Mars.

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Image 1: 3D view of the northern Hellas plains, including hills, plains, erosional windows, and impact craters with their interpreted lithology. Mosaic of CTX images draped on MOLA topography.

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Seismo-tectonic geomorphology of the Moon: Lobate scarps and boulder falls

Post contributed by P. Senthil Kumar, CSIR-National Geophysical Research Institute, Hyderabad, India

Geomorphology of terrestrial planets provides important insights into how various exogenous (e.g., meteorite impact, wind activity, glaciation) and interior geological processes (e.g., tectonics, volcanism) interact with the planetary surface. The tectonic features (faults, folds and fractures) shed light on the past and on-going seismo-tectonic processes operating on a planetary body. On Earth, seismometer networks are used in the direct instrumental observations of earthquake locations and their sizes for many decades. For other planets, seismic observations are rare. On the Moon, Apollo seismometers recorded moonquakes only during a brief period of 1969-1976. Annually, about 2000 deep moonquakes originating at 800-900 km depth, tens of shallow moonquakes at 0-100 km depth and around 200 meteoroid impacts were observed (Nakamura et al., 1979; Nakamura, 1980). While the deep moonquakes are produced by tidal forces, the sources of shallow moonquakes are thought to be of tectonic in origin. However, crustal tectonic structures responsible for shallow moonquakes are poorly understood.

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Figure 1: (upper panel) LROC NAC images showing the en echelon pattern of a lobate scarp, located near the southern basin wall of Schrodinger basin. Hundreds of boulder falls and their trails are found on the basin wall about 5-7 km south of the lobate scarp. The boulders are shown as points (open circles filled with yellow) and are not to the scale. Note the largest number of boulder falls is seen between 129° and 130° longitudes. (lower panel) LROC NAC (M139078014RE) image showing the boulder trails of variable lengths and widths containing some prominent boulders at the terminal ends of the trails. A 23 m diameter boulder (labelled), the largest in this scene, produces a trail (also labelled) slightly wider than the boulder indicating a possible size reduction during its transport from the source region to its current location. Most boulder trails criss-cross each other.

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Everything you wanted to know about martian scoria cones, but were afraid to ask…

Post contributed by Dr. Petr Brož, Institute of Geophysics of the Czech Academy of Science

Volcanism is an important process which shapes the surfaces of all terrestrial planets, and is still active on Earth, Jupiter’s moon Io, and perhaps on Venus. On Earth, volcanoes with wide variety of shapes and sizes exist; however, the size of volcanoes is anti-correlated with their frequency, i.e. small volcanoes are much more numerous than large ones. The most common terrestrial volcanoes are represented by kilometre-sized scoria cones (Figure 1a). These are conical edifices of pyroclastic material originating from explosive volcanic activity. Degassing of ascending magma causes magma fragmentation on eruption piling up the pyroclasts around the vent as a cone. Interestingly, scoria cones as known from Earth, have not been observed commonly on any other terrestrial body in the solar system despite the fact that magma degassing, and hence magma fragmentation, has to occur on these bodies as well.

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Figure 1: Example of a terrestrial scoria cone (panel a, Lassen Volcanic National Park, California, photographed by the National Park Service) and its putative martian analogue (panel b, detail of CTX image P22_009554_1858_XN_05N122W).

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The book of landforms

Post contributed by Henrik Hargitai, NASA Ames and ELTE, Hungary

Everyone has a story. The narrative of who we are is created by us, our actions and interactions, sometimes just drifting with the events we live through. Landscapes like the one shown in Image 1, tell a geologic story. We translate it to human language and categories. Landscapes are the interface between a planetary body, its atmosphere and the cosmic environment. They change, age, and renew. A flood from a distant source, an impact, settling dust, all imprint onto it. Its history is recorded in its materials and its relief. With age, it depicts an ever more complicated story until resurfacing destroys its history. It’s increasingly popular to explain geology by processes. In real life, however, processes are not always clear cut and as we enter the age of multidisciplinary studies, many of us accept people who are different, we also recognize that landforms are shaped by a multitude of processes, they are not black or white, but all shades of… any color. Is a channel volcanic or fluvial? Well, maybe it’s both, and tectonic, too, with a pinch of ice-rich material that is of course sublimating. Even the types of question we can think of evolve, and this is happening in science, humanities and politics in parallel. Lowell’s Mars? Flat plains and marshes. Perhaps he didn’t even have enough creativity? Nature ‘s creativity always surpasses our own.

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Image 1: The terminus of an inferred lava flow in one of the Marte Vallis outflow channels at 17.94 N, 185.51 E (Keszthelyi et al. 2008) (CTX image P03_002027_1979, credit NASA/JPL/MSSS)

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The Geomorphology of Potential Mars Tsunami Deposits

Post by Dr. Alexis Rodriguez. Planetary Scientist, Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, AZ, USA.

The Martian northern lowlands are thought to currently be extensively covered by an ice-rich deposit, interpreted by some researchers to be the residue of an ancient ocean that existed ~3.4 Ga (Kreslavsky and Head., 2002). However, evidence for this ocean has remained a subject of intense dispute and scientific scrutiny since it was first proposed (Parker et al., 1989, 1993) several decades. The controversy has largely stemmed in the fact that the proposed Martian paleo-shoreline features exhibit significant elevation ranges (Head et al., 1999), a lack of wave-cut paleoshoreline features (Malin and Edgett, 1999), and the presence of lobate margins (Tanaka et al., 1997, 2005).

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Fig. 1. Left: Color-coded digital elevation model of the study area showing the two proposed shoreline levels of an early Mars ocean that existed approximately 3.4 billion years ago. Right: Areas covered by the documented tsunami events extending from these shorelines. Lead author Alexis Rodriguez created this figure.

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It is Mercury’s fault(s)…

Post contributed by Valentina Galluzzi, INAF, Istituto di Astrofisica e Planetologia Spaziali (IAPS), Rome, Italy

Any celestial body that possesses a rigid crust, be it made of rock (e.g. terrestrial planets, asteroids) or ice (e.g. icy satellites), is subject to both endogenic and exogenic forces that cause the deformation of crustal materials. As a result of the mass movement, the brittle layers often break and slide along “planes” commonly known as faults. In particular, tensional, compressional and shear forces form normal, reverse and strike-slip faults, respectively. On Earth, plate tectonics is the main source of these stresses, being a balanced process that causes the lithospheric plates to diverge, converge and slide with respect to each other. On Mercury, there are no plates and therefore the tectonics work differently. Instead its surface is dominated by widespread lobate scarps, which are the surface expression of contractional thrust faults (i.e. reverse faults whose dip angle is less than 45°) and this small planet is in a state of global contraction.

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Image 1. Endeavour Rupes area on Mercury, image is centred at 37.5°N, 31.7°W. Top: MESSENGER MDIS High-Incidence angle basemap illuminated from the West (HIW) at 166 m/pixel. Bottom: MESSENGER global DEM v2 with a 665m grid [USGS Astrogeology Science Center] on HIW basemap, the purple to brown colour ramp represents low to high elevations, respectively. Endeavour Rupes scarp is high ~500 m. For scale, Holbein crater diameter is approximately 110 km.

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Kārūn Valles and its braided alluvial fan

Post contributed by Solmaz Adeli, Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR), Institute of Planetary Research, Berlin, Germany

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Image 1: Kārūn Valles located on the rim of the Ariadnes Colles basin. The visible channel head and deep grooves are shown (detail of CTX image D10_031182_1435). (b) The Kārūn Valles alluvial fan. Note the elongated depositional bars and their wide distribution. (c) A zoom on one of the braided bars. The flow direction is indicated by dashed arrows (detail of HiRISE image ESP_043261_1440).

The Amazonian period on Mars, meaning roughly the last 3 Ga, is globally believed to have been cold and hyperarid [e.g., Marchant and Head, 2007]. Recent geomorphological observations, however, have revealed the presence of well-preserved Amazonian-aged fluvial valleys in both the north and south mid-latitude regions of Mars [Howard and Moore, 2011; Hobley et al., 2014; Salese et al., 2016; Wilson et al., 2016]. These features point to one or several climate change phase(s) during Amazonian which could have sustained liquid water at the martian surface. These climate changes could have been triggered by obliquity oscillations [Laskar et al., 2004] causing the transportation of ice from polar regions and its re-deposition at lower latitudes. Episodic melting events during Amazonian, subsequently, formed valleys and other fluvial features, in the mid-latitude regions.

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Water, water, everywhere…?

Post contributed by Dr. Susan J. Conway CNRS and LPG Nantes, France

The similarity of water-formed landforms on Earth is often used as a key argument for the involvement of liquid water in shaping the surfaces of other planets. The major drawback of the argument is “equifinality” whereby very similar looking landforms can be produced by entirely different processes. A good illustration is leveed channels with lobate deposits (Image 1). Such landforms can be built on Earth by wet debris flow, lava flow, pyroclastic flows and they are also found on Mars (de Haas et al., 2015; Johnsson et al., 2014) where the formation process is debated.

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Image 1: Lobes and levees, scale bars are 50 m in all cases. Wet debris flow deposits in Svalbard, image credit DLR HRSC-AX campaign. Lava flows on Tenerife, aerial image courtesy of IGN, Plan Nacional de Ortofotografía Aérea de España. Self-channelling pyroclastic deposits at Lascar volcano, Chile, Pleiades image. Depositional lobes in Istok crater on Mars, HiRISE image PSP_007127_1345.

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Large aeolian ripples on Mars

Post contributed by Dr. Ryan C. Ewing, Department of Geology and Geophysics, Texas A&M University

Ripples cover the surfaces of sand dunes on Earth and Mars. On Earth, ripples formed in typical aeolian sand (e.g., 0.1 and 0.3 mm) range in wavelength between 10 and 15 cm and display a highly straight, two-dimensional crestline geometry. Ripples are thought to develop through a process dominated by the ballistic impacts of saltating sand grains in which wavelength selection occurs through the interplay of grain size, wind speed, the saltation trajectories of the sand grains, and ripple topography.

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Figure 1: Wind-blown impact ripples from Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley, USA. Pen is ~15 cm. Inferred transport direction is to the right on the image. Image credit: Ryan C. Ewing

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Debris-Covered Glaciers on Earth and Mars

Post contributed by David P. Mayer, Department of Geophysical Science, the University of Chicago

Debris-covered glaciers are glaciers whose ablation zones are at least partially covered by supraglacial debris. On Earth, debris-covered glaciers are found in all major mountain glacier systems. The debris itself is primarily derived from rockfall above the accumulation zone. This material becomes entrained in the accumulating ice and is carried englacially before emerging in the ablation zone. On Mars, numerous mid-latitude landforms have been interpreted as debris-covered glaciers based on their geomorphic similarity to nearby ice-rich landforms such as lobate debris aprons (LDA), as well as their similarity to terrestrial debris-covered alpine glaciers (Head et al., 2010 and refs. therein).

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Image 1: Aerial photo of Mullins Glacier in Beacon Valley, Antarctica, a debris-covered glacier and possible analog to certain landforms on Mars. USGS aerial photo TMA 3080/275. Available from http://www.pgc.umn.edu/imagery/aerial/antarctica.

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The surface expression of intrusive volcanic activity on Mars

Post contributed by Peter Fawdon, Dept. of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Birkbeck, University of London, UK.

Volcanism is an important process that can be observed on the surface of many planetary bodies. Not all magma bodies erupt extrusively onto the planet’s surface, many simply stall within the crust, cooling slowly over millions of years to form igneous intrusions. On Earth erosion and uplift expose the frozen core of ancient volcanoes relatively frequently, however, it is considerably more difficult to investigate this intrusive magmatism on other planets.

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Figure 1 shows a perspective view across Nili Patera. This view is generated in ArcScene using data from a mosaic of three CTX elevation models and orthoimages. The view shows Nili Tholus and the associated bright central lava unit as well as the graben along the top of the uplifted region of the western caldera floor.

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Martian Maars: valuable sites in the search for traces of past martian life

Post contributed by Dr. Sandro Rossato, Department of Geosciences, University of Padova, Padova, Italy

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Figure 1: Terrestrial maars. (a) is a group of three maars filled with water in the Eifel region, Germany (rim-to-rim diameter ~0.5-1 km) (“Maare” by Martin Schildgen – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Maare.jpg#/media/File:Maare.jpg). (b) shows the Wabah maar, located in Saudi Arabia (rim-to-rim diameter ~2 km) (courtesy of Vic Camp, San Diego State University).

Terrestrial maar-diatremes are small volcanoes (see this previous post for a general description) which have craters whose floor lies below the pre-eruptive surface and are surrounded by a tuff ejecta ring 2-5 km wide (Figure 1) that depends on the size of the maar itself and on the depth of the explosion (Lorenz, 2003). Maar-diatremes constitute highly valuable sites for in situ investigations on planetary bodies, because they expose rocks at the surface from a great range of crustal depths and are sites which could preferentially preserve biomarkers.

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Sedimentology and Hydrology of an Amazonian paleo-fluivo-lacustrine systems on Mars (Moa Valles)

Post contributed by Francesco Salese from IRSPS/Dipartimento INGEO, Università D’Annunzio, Pescara, Italy.

Mars, is one of the planetary bodies where water flowed and where it may transiently flow today under certain conditions. Many martian paleodrainage systems and well-preserved fluvial and lacustrine deposits have been recognized and studied in the last two decades (see further reading). Widespread dendritic valley networks and the presence of extensive fluvial features on ancient martian terrains suggest that a relatively “warm and wet” climate was prevalent early in the planet’s history (about 3.7 Ga). This is in stark contrast with the hyper-arid, extremely cold climate that is thought to have persisted from 3 Ga until the present (Amazonian Era). The subject of this post is Moa Valles [Salese et al., 2016], which is a 2 billion year old paleodrainage system (Figure 1) that is nearly 300 km long and is carved into ancient highland terrains of Tempe Terra in the northern hemisphere of Mars. Understanding the origin and evolution of this type of complex and interconnected paleo-fluvio-lacustrine system is critical for understanding the early martian climate.

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Figure 1: The upper panel shows the THEMIS-VIS daytime mosaic of Moa Vallis system.The lower panel is a line drawing showing the channel system in blue lines, red dotted lines represent wrinkle ridges, the drainage basin is delimited in grey, and fan-shaped and deltaic deposits in orange. The total mapped length of the channel as shown here is ~325 km, and the flow direction is towards the east.

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An esker still physically associated with its parent glacier in Phlegra Montes, Mars

Post contributed by Colman Gallagher, University College Dublin.

Eskers are sinuous ridges composed of deposits (Image 1) laid down from meltwater flowing in tunnel-like conduits beneath glaciers (Image 2). On Earth, eskers are common components of deglaciated landscapes (Image 3) but eskers also can be observed emerging from the margins of intact glaciers.

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Image 1. A longitudinal section through part of an esker ridge in Ireland. Esker sediments are layered and often extremely coarse. The structures of the layers represent highly variable depositional settings within subglacial meltwater tunnels. The coarse sedimentary calibre represents extremely powerful meltwater flows.

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Inverted wadis on Earth: analogs for inversion of relief on the Martian surface

Post contributed by Abdallah S. Zaki, Department of Geography, Ain Shams University.

The evolution of inverted topography on Earth and Mars can result from surface armouring of the channel, infilling of channels/valleys by lava flows, and cementation of valley floor by secondary minerals (such as, calcium carbonate, gypcrete, ferricrete, calcrete) – see post by Rebecca Williams. This post specifically concerns inverted wadis, which have been identified in a number of localities on Earth, including multiple localities in the Sahara and Arabia, Australia, the Ebro Basin of Spain, Utah, and New Mexico and west Texas (e.g., Miller, 1937; Maizels, 1987; 1990). Inversion of relief is observed commonly on Mars, for example, Eberswalde Crater, Arabia Terra, Juventae Chasma, Olympus Mons, and Antoniadi Crater (e.g., Pain et al., 2007; Williams et al., 2007).

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Image 1: Google Earth image of the dendritic pattern preserved in inverted wadis in eastern Saudi Arabia.

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Salty Flows on Mars!

Post contributed by Lujendra Ojha, Georgia Institute of Technology.

Recurring slope lineae (RSL) are dark, narrow features forming on present-day Mars that have been suggested to be a result of transient flowing water. RSL extend incrementally downslope on steep, warm slopes, fade when inactive, and reappear annually over multiple Mars years (Images 1 and 2). Average RSL range in width from a few meters (<5 m), down to detection limit for the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera (~0.30 m/pixel). The temperatures on slopes where RSL are active typically exceed 250 K and commonly are above 273 K. These characteristics suggest a possible role of salts in lowering the freezing point of water, allowing briny solutions to flow.

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Image 1: RSL flowing downhill on the steep slopes of Palikir crater in the southern mid-latitude of Mars. Credits: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona.

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Pluto, Up Close!

Post contributed by Dr Veronica Bray, Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, University of Arizona.

Images of Pluto coming back from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft have revealed many unexpected landforms and show extreme albedo and compositional variations across the dwarf planet’s surface. This blog post concentrates on one high-resolution swath across the boundary between the cratered terrains of Viking and Voyager Terra and the smoother ices of Sputnik Planum (see Figure 1). Take time to scroll down this long image (Figure 2), that covers ~530 km of Pluto’s surface at around 30°N.

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Figure 1: A global image of Pluto created from high-resolution (2.2km/pixel) panchromatic images from the LORRI instrument and lower-resolution (5km/pixel) colour data from the Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera. The colours have been enhanced to show the diversity of the surface units by combining blue, red and near infra red images. Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI.

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A Mud Flow on Mars?

Post contributed by Prof. Lionel Wilson, Lancaster University, UK and Dr. Peter J. Mouginis-Mark, Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology, USA.

Image 1 shows a distinctive flow deposit southwest of the Cerberus Fossae on Mars.  The flow source is a ~20 m deep, ~12 x 1.5 km wide depression within a yardang field associated with the Medusae Fossae Formation.  The flow traveled for ~40 km following topographic lows to leave a deposit on average 3-4 km wide and up to 10 m thick.  The surface morphology of the deposit suggests that it was produced by the emplacement of a fluid flowing in a laminar fashion and possessing a finite yield strength. There is an ongoing debate about whether flows in this region of Mars are lava flows or water-rich debris flows.

Image 1: Location of mudflow deposit on Mars.

Image 1: Location of the distinctive flow deposit, called Zephyria Fluctus, just north of the equator on Mars. The inset at top left shows the broader context of the flow. The grey area is the flow’s extent and black boxes indicating the position of Images 2 and 3 (Fig. 2) and Image 4 (Fig. 4). The inferred flow direction is from SW to NE. Mosaic of CTX images D01_027675_1806, D04_028941_1805 and G19_025697_1803.

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A cracking comet!

Post contributed by Dr. M. Ramy El-Maarry, Institute of Physics, University of Berne, Switzerland.

The European Rosetta spacecraft went into orbit around comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in Aug, 2014. Since then, the spacecraft’s imaging instruments, particularly the OSIRIS camera, have been sending images of the comet’s surface in unprecedented detail showing an amazingly complex landscape and a suite of geomorphological features that suggest many processes are currently at work and acting on the surface.

Image 1: OSIRIS images of various polygonal fracture systems on the surface of the comet.

Image 1: OSIRIS images of various polygonal fracture systems on the surface of the comet.

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Groundwater outflow on Mars – insights from large-scale experiments

Post contributed by Dr. Wouter Marra, Faculty of Geosciences, Universiteit Utrecht.

There are many water-worn features on the planet Mars, which contribute to the reconstruction of former hydrological conditions. For example, dendritic valley networks show that there was precipitation in the Noachian, the oldest epoch on Mars more than 3.7 billion years ago (Craddock and Howard, 2002). In contrast, fluvial morphologies in younger terrains seem to originate from groundwater (e.g. Baker and Milton, 1974). These are valleys that appear suddenly in the landscape, for example the large outflow channels (e.g. Mangala Vallis and Kasei Vallis) and theatre-headed valleys (such as Nirgal Vallis). However, such systems and their implications are poorly understood. To better understand the formation of such landscapes, I performed several scale-experiments focused on the fundamental process and resulting morphology.

Image 1: Landscapes formed by seepage of groundwater. Left are photos from the experiments, right are examples of Martian cases. Top images show seepage from a distal source, characterized by many small valleys in between large valleys as result of flow convergence to the large valleys. Bottom images have a local source of groundwater, which results in the formation of many valleys of similar size. Arrows indicate (inferred) flow direction. Martian images are from THEMIS daytime infrared.

Image 1: Landscapes formed by seepage of groundwater. Left are photos from the experiments, right are examples of Martian cases. Top images show seepage from a distal source, characterized by many small valleys in between large valleys as result of flow convergence to the large valleys. Bottom images have a local source of groundwater, which results in the formation of many valleys of similar size. Arrows indicate (inferred) flow direction. Martian images are from THEMIS daytime infrared.

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Valleys, Deltas, and Lacustrine Sediment in the South-western Melas Basin, Valles Marineris, Mars

Post contributed by Joel Davis, Department of Earth Sciences, University College London, UK.

During the last few decades, dry river valley networks and delta fan structures have been found to be increasingly common on ancient terrains on the martian surface (e.g. Goldspiel and Squyres, 1991; Hynek et al., 2010). They are considered to be one of the main lines of evidence that Mars once had Earth-like precipitation and surface runoff (e.g. Hynek and Phillips, 2003). One such location is the south-western Melas basin, part of a collapsed graben structure on the southern wall of Melas Chasma, Valles Marineris – Mars’ equatorial canyon system (Images 1 & 2). The basin likely formed in the early Hesperian period (~ 3.7 – 3.5 Ga), soon after Melas Chasma opened.

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Image 1: Context Camera image-mosaic of western portion of palaeolake sequence in the south-western Melas basin. In the left of the image, valley networks can be seen converging on a delta-like structure at the centre of the image. Layered lacustrine deposits are well exposed in the right of the image; about 40-50 packages are visible at this resolution. [Image numbers: G22_026866_1710_XN_09S077W & P07_003685_1711_XI_08S076W]

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Possible Periglacial landscape in Utopia Planitia, Mars

Post contributed by Alex Barrett, Dept. of Physical Sciences, Open University, UK.

The following images show the walls of a two kilometre diameter impact crater in Utopia Planitia on Mars. This region is part of the low lying Northern Plains which have generally flat topography. The main occurrences of steeper hill slopes in this region are impact craters such as the one illustrated below.

Image 1: This image shows the southern wall of a two kilometre diameter impact crater in Eastern Utopia Planitia.

Image 1: This image shows the southern wall of a two kilometre diameter impact crater in Eastern Utopia Planitia. Note that the image has been rotated so that down-slope is towards the bottom of the image. Several rows of lobate structures can be seen on the right hand side of the image. These may be analogous to the solifluction lobes found in periglacial environments on Earth. To the left hand side of the image are several thin lines of metre scale clasts which could possibly be sorted stripes.

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Dust Storms in Hellas Planitia, Mars

Post by Mr Martin Voelker and Dr. Daniela Tirsch, Institute of Planetary Research, German Aerospace Center, Berlin.

In July 2012 the Context Camera (CTX) on board Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) observed an upcoming and well-defined dust storm in a giant impact basin in the southern hemisphere on Mars known as Hellas Planitia. Although this deep lowland is notable for its dust storms, this image shows a unique view of a nascent storm system; from its first gusts to its shredded front.

Image 1: Dust storm event in eastern Hellas Planitia. The white area at the left of the image is the east-west trending wrinkle ridge. Note the helical currents in its southern part and the flow front in the very north (CTX image D02_027836_ 1333_XN_46S272W). Image credit: NASA, JPL, Malin Space Science

Image 1: Dust storm event in eastern Hellas Planitia. The white area at the left of the image is the east-west trending wrinkle ridge. Note the helical currents in its southern part and the flow front in the very north (CTX image D02_027836_ 1333_XN_46S272W). Image credit: NASA, JPL, Malin Space Science

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Long-runout landslide transport in Valles Marineris, Mars

Post contributed by Jessica Watkins, Dept. of Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles, USA.

Long-runout (> 50 km) subaerial mass movement is rare on Earth but it is one of the most prominent geomorphic processes shaping Valles Marineris in equatorial Mars. It has occurred widely and nearly continuously within the canyon system over the past 3.5 billion years (Quantin et al., 2004).

Image 1: Long-runout landslide in Ius Chasma, Valles Marineris, with characteristic zoned morphology. Blue box indicates location of spectral map in Image 3. Image is Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) daytime infrared mosaic. Image credit: NASA/JPL/ASU

Image 1: Long-runout landslide in Ius Chasma, Valles Marineris, with characteristic zoned morphology. Blue box indicates location of spectral map in Image 3. Image is Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) daytime infrared mosaic.
Image credit: NASA/JPL/ASU

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Transient flow of water on Vesta suggested by gullies and lobate deposits.

Post contributed by Jennifer Scully, Dept. of Earth, Planetary & Space Sciences, University of California Los Angeles

Vesta is the second most massive asteroid in the asteroid belt, with a mean diameter of 526 km (e.g. Russell et al., 2012). High resolution images from the Dawn Mission have detected curvilinear and linera gully forms and lobate deposits in craters and on steep slopes on its surface (Scully et al., 2015).

Image 1: (a) Fonteia crater, which contains linear gullies. (b) Unmapped version and (c) mapped version of linear gullies. White arrows highlight an example linear gully in (b).

Image 1: (a) Fonteia crater, which contains linear gullies. (b) Unmapped version and (c) mapped version of linear gullies. White arrows highlight an example linear gully in (b).

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Diverted landslides in Valles Marineris

Post contributed by Dr Peter Grindrod, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, University of London

Layered deposits on Mars are a globally-pervasive record of the sedimentary history of the planet. These deposits not only preserve long sequences of Mars’ stratigraphic record, but also exhibit evidence for hydrous minerals and aqueous activity, and thus help to define the habitability through time. Layered deposits are therefore high priority exploration targets for current and future missions, including the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity Rover, which currently sits at the base of an interior layered deposit (ILD) in Gale Crater.

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Image 1. A typical landslide in Valles Marineris, Mars. CTX DTM made at the UK NASA RPIF (Regional Planetary Image Facility) at University College London. Images B21_017688_1685_XN_11S067W and B22_018321_1685_XN_11S068W. Image credit: NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems.

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Gullies and ice on Mars.

Post by Dr Susan Conway, Open University, UK

Gullies on Mars were first discovered in 2000 (Malin and Edgett, 2000) in images taken by the Mars Orbiter Camera on board NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor platform. They are kilometre-scale features and have a striking resemblance to water-carved gullies on Earth (Image 1).

Image 1: Example of gully morphologies on Mars in HiRISE data. Image credits: NASA/JPL/UofA. (a) Gullies on the wall of a small impact crater within Kaiser crater, image number: PSP_003418_1335. (b) gullies within a polar pit, image number: PSP_003498_1090. (c) Gullies on the wall of Galap crater, near Sirenum Fossae, image number: PSP_003939_1420 (d) Gullies on the wall of Wirtz crater, a large impact crater to the east of Argyre basin, image number: PSP_002457_1310 (e) Gullies on the slip face of dunes in Russell Crater in Noachis Terra, image number: PSP_001440_1255 (f) Gullies on the wall of an impact crater to the west of Newton Crater in Terra Sirenum, image number: PSP_005930_1395.

Image 1: Example of gully morphologies on Mars in HiRISE data. Image credits: NASA/JPL/UofA. (a) Gullies on the wall of a small impact crater within Kaiser crater, image number: PSP_003418_1335. (b) gullies within a polar pit, image number: PSP_003498_1090. (c) Gullies on the wall of Galap crater, near Sirenum Fossae, image number: PSP_003939_1420 (d) Gullies on the wall of Wirtz crater, a large impact crater to the east of Argyre basin, image number: PSP_002457_1310 (e) Gullies on the slip face of dunes in Russell Crater in Noachis Terra, image number: PSP_001440_1255 (f) Gullies on the wall of an impact crater to the west of Newton Crater in Terra Sirenum, image number: PSP_005930_1395.

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Very recent debris flow activity on Mars

Post contributed by Dr Andreas Johnsson, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

The question whether Martian gullies formed by fluvial processes or by dry mass wasting have been a source of heated debate ever since their discovery (Malin and Edgett, 2000). Intense research within the last decade however points to a fluvial origin for a majority of gully landforms on Mars.

Image 1. A) Overview of the pole-facing interior crater wall (PSP_006837_1345). B) Clearly defined paired levee deposits (white arrows). C) Multiple overlapping lobate deposits (white arrows). D) Gully fan dominated by debris flows (white arrows). E) Well defined medial deposit (debris plug) (white arrow).  Image credit: NASA/JPL/UofA for HiRISE.

Image 1. A) Overview of the pole-facing interior crater wall (PSP_006837_1345). B) Clearly defined paired levee deposits (white arrows). C) Multiple overlapping lobate deposits (white arrows). D) Gully fan dominated by debris flows (white arrows). E) Well defined medial deposit (debris plug) (white arrow). Image credit: NASA/JPL/UofA for HiRISE.

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Liquid Water and Water Ice on Gale Crater, Mars

Post by Dr. Alberto G. Fairén, Dept. of Astronomy, Cornell University, USA, and Centro de Astrobiología, Spain.

Gale crater, the site of the currently active Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) or Curiosity Rover mission, is a ~154-km-diameter impact crater formed during the Late Noachian/Early Hesperian at the dichotomy boundary on Mars (Cabrol et al., 1999; Anderson and Bell III, 2010; Wray, 2013). The northern floor and rim of Gale are ~1–2 km lower in elevation than its southern floor and rim, and the crater shows a layered central mound named Aeolis Mons, which is 100 km wide, extends over an area of 6000 km2, and is up to 5 km in height (Malin and Edgett, 2000).

Image 1: Details of the lobate features, arcuate ridges and terminal moraines in the central mound of Gale.

Image 1: Details of the lobate features, arcuate ridges and terminal moraines in the central mound of Gale.

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Experimental Delta Formation in Crater Lakes

Post by G. de Villiers, Faculty of Geoscience, Utrecht University.

Fan-shaped deposits have been identified on the surface of Mars (Image 1). These sediment bodies often occur within impact craters and, specifically in the cases of fan deltas, suggests that these craters were once lakes early in Martian history. Fan delta morphologies are indicative of upstream (e.g. flow discharge and sediment properties) and downstream (e.g. basin characteristics) parameters, from which the hydrological conditions at the time of formation can be inferred (e.g. Kleinhans et al. 2010).

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Image 1: Examples of fan delta deposits on Mars, formed in enclosed impact crater or rift basins. A) Single-scarped, branched prograding delta (PSP_006954); B) Single-scarped, smooth prograding delta (I10805012); and C) Multiple-scarped, stepped retrograding delta (V17040003). White line is approximately 5 km.

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