Thanks to the Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter and the on-board HiRISE camera, scientists are able to monitor Mars for changes taking place on the landscape. They do this by comparing older images with newer ones, and also by seeing “fresh” features — like this recent landslide in Zunil Crater. “The color and albedo patterns indicate that a landslide occurred here very recently–too recently to have been re-covered by dust,” writes Alfred McEwen, principal investigator of HiRISE, writing on the camera’s website. “Looking for changes such as this will help us to better understand active processes.” McEwen said the landslide could have been triggered by a Marsquake or a small impact event.”
See more recent landslides below:
Our ‘eagle-eyed’ pal Stuart Atkinson found this landslide on a steep scarp in the north polar region. It looks as though a lot of rock has fallen from the cliff, and discussion among other image artists on UnmannedSpaceflight.com indicated that the blue areas could easily be patches of ice deposited from the cliff face. You can see the original image at the HiRISE website.
This image is so amazing, in that from orbit, we are looking down the side of a crater wall, where gullies have formed. There are two schools of thought on these types of gullies: one, many scientists believe that these gullies have been carved by liquid water, and were carved recently, so this recent, present-day activity is of immense interest.
A second opinion is that accumulations of frost in the gully alcoves starts an avalanche of loose material that does not involve liquid water. The MRO scientists will continue to analyze many images like this in order to try and answer the broader question of whether liquid water is responsible for the the gullies, landslides and avalanches or not.
This image of Bahram Vallis has large mounds of material at the base of the valley floor. These deposits of material have the characteristic shape of rotational landslides or slumps on Earth where material along the entire wall slumps down and piles debris at the base of the slope, “much like a person who slumps down the back of a chair,” writes Frank Chuang from the HiRISE team. “Right at the cliff edge at the top of the slope, the shape of the area where the valley wall gave way to a landslide is not straight, but rather curved or semi-circular. This is typical of large landslides where the failure area has an arcuate “crown” shape. The fact that landslides have occurred here indicates that the valley walls are not stable and the materials respond to Martian gravity with mass movements.”
Nancy Atkinson is currently Universe Today’s Contributing Editor. Previously she served as UT’s Senior Editor and lead writer, and has worked with Astronomy Cast and 365 Days of Astronomy. Nancy is the author of the new book “Incredible Stories from Space: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Missions Changing Our View of the Cosmos.” She is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.