Mars Water Could Have Carved These ‘Mystery Mounds’

by Elizabeth Howell on December 12, 2013

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Layered deposits in Juventae Chasma as seen by the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter's high-resolution stereo camera in November 2013. Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum)

Layered deposits in Juventae Chasma as seen by the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter’s high-resolution stereo camera in November 2013. Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum)

Above is a time capsule of more than three billion years of Mars history. The right-hand side shows a bunch of blocky-looking things that formed after volcanic activity made the walls of Juventae Chasma collapse. In the center are what the European Space Agency calls “mystery mounds” made up of sulphate materials (indicating that they were changed by water a long time ago.)

“The mounds contain numerous layers that were most likely built up as lake-deposits during the Chasma’s wet epoch. But ice-laden dust raining out from the atmosphere – a phenomenon observed at the poles of Mars – may also have contributed to the formation of the layers,” ESA stated.

“While the water has long gone, wind erosion prevails, etching grooves into the exposed surfaces of the mounds and whipping up the surrounding dust into ripples.”

The picture was snapped Nov. 4 by the European Space Agency’s Mars Express mission. There’s been a lot of talk about water on Mars this past week, between this possible salty water find at the equator and news of the Mars Curiosity rover stumbling on to an ancient lake that could have supported life.

Mars Express has been humming along for 10 years and counting above the Red Planet. Check out some of its top discoveries in the past decade in this past article by Universe Today’s Ken Kremer.

Mars Express over water-ice crater.  ESA Celebrates 10 Years since the launch of Mars Express. This artists concept shows Mars Express set against a 35 km-wide crater in the Vastitas Borealis region of Mars at approximately 70.5°N / 103°E. The crater contains a permanent patch of water-ice that likely sits upon a dune field – some of the dunes are exposed towards the top left in this image. Copyright ESA/DLR/FU-Berlin-G.Neukum

This artist’s concept shows Mars Express set against a 35 km-wide crater in the Vastitas Borealis region of Mars at approximately 70.5°N / 103°E. The crater contains a permanent patch of water-ice that likely sits upon a dune field – some of the dunes are exposed towards the top left in this image. Copyright ESA/DLR/FU-Berlin-G.Neukum

About 

Elizabeth Howell is the senior writer at Universe Today. She also works for Space.com, Space Exploration Network, the NASA Lunar Science Institute, NASA Astrobiology Magazine and LiveScience, among others. Career highlights include watching three shuttle launches, and going on a two-week simulated Mars expedition in rural Utah. You can follow her on Twitter @howellspace or contact her at her website.

Zoutsteen from Holland December 12, 2013 at 11:56 AM

the top image reminds me of calving icebergs. except made out of rocks and sand.

Ashley James December 13, 2013 at 4:32 AM

They are even planning to start a settlement on mars in 2018

http://bit.ly/WaterOnMars

Dampe December 13, 2013 at 7:12 AM

“To water on Mars!”

peterku December 17, 2013 at 5:12 PM

I bet you got the point, though not sand and rocks, but really water ice. It is evident that Mars smooth layer visible on top right corner of image is material consisting mostly from ice covered with layer of dust. Structure visible on this picture is caused by sublimation, where ice from under dust is disappearing and layer is falling down. There is probably flowing water included, you can see its impact on right down part of image where is dark, bluish material stored down. Water flows down under layer of dust and probably seeping to surface in lowest part and oxidizing material there.
My opinion is that whole smooth area of Mars is just frozen sea. There is no way sand and rock can behave way visible on pictures. You can find everywhere valleys in this smooth area sloping down and getting bigger and bigger reminding water channels. But down there material is missing. Sand and rocks can not go down and not creating pile there. Instead there on lowest point is always some dark oxidized surface.
We can not see ice directly, because this material is “self healing” everywhere water ice is exposed it will sublimate immediately, only sand content will remain, insulating deeper layer of ice.

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