Ancient Snow Shaped A Martian Basin That’s Half The Size Of Brazil

by Elizabeth Howell on July 16, 2014

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Perspective view of Hellas Basin taken with the High Resolution Stereo Camera on ESA’s Mars Express in January 2014, and released in July 2014. Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin

Perspective view of Hellas Basin taken with the High Resolution Stereo Camera on ESA’s Mars Express in January 2014, and released in July 2014. Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin

Such great heights! A mountain chain peeks in the background of this new view of Hellas Basin, based on information taken by a European spacecraft circling the Red Planet.

Beyond the pretty picture is a tale of how snow behaved on the Martian surface, according to the European Space Agency. The vast basin is about half the size of Brazil.

The wrinkled view of that crater in front is a product of snowing and freezing that took place when the Martian surface was wetter, ESA said.

A map of the Hellas basin in the southern hemisphere of Mars, as well as the rocky Hellespontus Montes. Image taken by the High Resolution Stereo Camera on ESA’s Mars Express. Credit: NASA MGS MOLA Science Team/Freie Universitaet Berlin

A map of the Hellas basin in the southern hemisphere of Mars, as well as the rocky Hellespontus Montes. Image taken by the High Resolution Stereo Camera on ESA’s Mars Express. Credit: NASA MGS MOLA Science Team/Freie Universitaet Berlin

“During this period, snow fell and covered the surface and later moved downhill into the crater. Once inside the crater, the snow became trapped and soon covered by surface dust, before compacting to form ice. The number of concentric lines indicates many cycles of this process and it is possible that craters like these may still be rich in ice hidden beneath just tens of metres of surface debris.”

Additionally, the high hill chain in the back (called Hellespontus Montes) is a remnant of how Hellas basin was formed, the agency said.

“This feature is a product of the final stages of the formation of the vast Hellas impact basin itself, most likely as the basin walls – which were first pushed outwards by the extraordinary forces at work during the formation of the basin – later collapsed and sank inwards to create the observed stair-stepped shape.”

The image was taken by ESA’s Mars Express spacecraft, which is just one of several robotic emissaries circling the Red Planet.

Source: European Space Agency

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.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Aqua4U July 16, 2014 at 11:48 AM

The Mars Express mission team has proprietary laws in place for their data which has unfortunately resulted in releases being rather skimpy concerning Hellas Planetia. When I read they were imaging that area, I began searching for releases because I am EXTREMELY interested as you may have surmised that from my previous posts? And instead have found zip or practically nothing.. only snippets.

My first thought was.. they’ve found something extremely important, maybe even ‘earth shattering’ and are holding back releasing the information as they await confirmation? And/or perhaps they want a head start getting there ahead of the inevitable land grab/rush?

Kawarthajon July 16, 2014 at 12:11 PM

Clearly that’s where the man on Mars lives and it’s a government conspiracy to keep us regular folks in the dark! ;)

nikolay July 16, 2014 at 12:52 PM

That’s where the Prothean archives are!!! Dibs on the first Asari to come trough the Mass Relay ;)

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