Bouncing Boulders on Mars

Article Updated: 24 Dec , 2015
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Mars is not the dead world we once thought it was, and these images portray that fact. Stuart Atkinson (not a relative, but a good pal) is part of the UnmannedSpaceflight.com crew, the folks who have created fantastic visual treats from raw images sent back from our space exploring robots. Stu also has his own website, Cumbrian Sky . Today, Stu posted some pictures on his website, along with his story of how he came to create an utterly fantastic image from a rather ordinary-looking picture from the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaisaince Orbiter. After seeing Stu’s handiwork today, I asked him if he wouldn’t mind sharing his story on Universe Today of how he came to make an amazing discovery on Mars. (Click on the image above for a larger version.)

HiRISE original image. Credit: NASA/JPL/U of AZ

HiRISE original image. Credit: NASA/JPL/U of AZ


Stu said he found the image above on the “dangerously addictive” Mars Global Data website. The image, of the Aram Chaos region, didn’t look very interesting at first. But then he zoomed in to get a better look at the “slumpy” feature in the middle of the image, and then zoomed in some more. “It looked like a section of the valley wall had come loose and slid down to the lower ground below,” Stu said as he raised a Spock-like eyebrow…
Zoom in of HiRISE original.  Credit: Stuart Atkinson

Zoom in of HiRISE original. Credit: Stuart Atkinson


There, he discovered the track of a huge boulder that had “fallen from the valley wall and tumbled down, bouncing and rolling and boinging along for a long, long way.”

Adding color to the image really highlighted the tracks left by the bouncing boulder, and a few other tracks showed up as well, creating an absolutley awesome image and discovery!

“You know what I love about these images?,” Stu wrote on his blog. “They show movement, they show that things are moving on Mars right now. It’s not the dead, lifeless, corpse of a world I grew up with; it’s a world – we now know – where dust devils whirl and twirl across the plains… where clouds drift through the pale pink sky… and where huge stones fall from high cliff face, fall to the ground below, then bounce and roll and crash over it… unseen by anyone.”

“For now.”

Great detective work, Stu! I propose that this region should be named after Stuart Atkinson (at least the boulders, if nothing else!)

Also, check out Stu’s pictoral history of the International Space Station, starting from when it was a wee infant back in 1998 to the great images we’ve seen of the ISS this past week.


10 Responses

  1. Astrofiend says:

    Some great shots. It’d be quite a thing to be standing in that valley and watching a giant boulder careening down towards you…

  2. ThereIsNoSuchThingAsMagic says:

    I think it would be quite a thing just standing on Mars 🙂

  3. dragonsyoung says:

    i second the naming after Stuart Atkinson.

  4. richard23 says:

    The man who lost the sea – theodore sturgeon.

    A must read. A short story about the first man to walk on mars.

  5. Stu says:

    Wow, thanks for sharing the story Nancy, and I’m glad everyone likes the pics! Can’t claim for a moment that it’s a “discovery”; after all dozens of people on the HiRISE team must have seen these boinging boulders before I did. I was just glad to spot something so cool. 🙂

  6. Dave Finton says:

    Hmmm… “boinging boulders”. That sounds like a good name for a band.

    Anyways, good find! These pictures are pretty awesome!

  7. Vino says:

    Amazing work!! Awesome pics!! Great article!!
    Thanks Nancy!

  8. 3rd Rock says:

    Started out with a laugh this morning – “boinging boulders”, I like that! Beautitul and interesting pictures, thanks for pointing them out.

  9. Roger Levinson says:

    I think that it would be quite a thing to be watching that boulder careening down towards me and still being able to stand on Mars after it had hit. However, after much deliberation and careful consideration ofcourse, I think that it would be a greater subsequent pleasure to watch this boulder careening down the mountain from a safe distance. Maybe then I would be around to watch other boulders. [Welsh humour]

  10. Rafael says:

    One of the things that I’ve always struggled with is scale – as it relates to images from Mars. After all, you can’t place a ruler down of an automobile for comparison. For example I wonder just how large that section of wall is that dislodged from the side of that slope?

    Mind games. Enjoyed the pics, thanks.

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