While it still has many mysteries to solve, Mars is becoming clearer and clearer to us every day, thanks to the dozens of functional robots we currently have either on the surface of the red planet or in its orbit.
In this latest edition of the European Space Agency (ESA) orbital Mars Express, a unique feature of Mars geology is presented in stunning detail.
Looking like giant scratches on the planet’s surface, these grooves are part of a giant rift system on Mars known as Tantalus Fossae.
Aside from the detail in the image, what is really shocking is the scale we are looking at – these troughs are up to 350 meters (1,148 feet) deep and 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) wide and can stretch for up to 1,000 kilometers .
The image is a true color, which means that it represents what people would see if they saw the area with their own eyes.
It is not technically a “photo”. The image was created by a digital terrestrial model of Mars using the color channels of ESA’s high-resolution stereo camera on Mars Express – but it shows an incredibly clear view of the vast area.
The image above shows an oblique perspective, while the image below is a top-down view of Tantalus Fossae.
According to an ESA press release, the ground resolution of these images is about 18 meters / pixel and the images are centered at about 43 ° N / 257 ° E. The north is on the right.
So what are we looking at?
The cesspool is a cavity or pit and the Tantalus Fossae run along the east side of an extensive, relatively flat Mars volcano called Alba Mons.
In terms of surface area, Alba Mons is the largest volcano on Mars – its volcanic flow fields extend at least 1,350 km (840 miles). But at its highest point, the altitude is only 6.8 kilometers.
These pits were created when the Alba Mons rose from the planet’s crust, causing distortion and rupture of the surrounding area.
“The Tantalus Fossae faults are an excellent example of a surface feature known as grabens,” the publication explains. “Each ditch formed as two parallel cracks opened, causing the rock in between to fall down into the resulting gap.”
A similar feature is found on the west side of the Alba Mons, known as the Alba Fossae.
These images are not just beautiful to look at – they can also help us understand more about how the surface of Mars was formed.
It is believed that these structures were not all formed at once, but one after the other, with the result that some of the troughs intersected with each other.
For example, the impact crater you see in the pictures has graben running along it, suggesting that the crater was first there. In the first two pictures, you can see a smaller crater on the left located at the top of the troughs and it is probably younger.
Mars Express has been orbiting Mars for more than 18 years now. We look forward to seeing more of the unique aspects of our neighboring planet.