This Martian Lava Tube Skylight is 50 Meters Across. The Biggest Lava Tube on Earth is Only 15 Meters Across

NASA’s Mariner 9 was the first spacecraft to orbit another planet when it reached Mars in late 1971. It got there only a few weeks before the Soviet Union’s Mars 2 and Mars 3 spacecraft, despite being launched 11 days later than those missions. Unfortunately, there was a major dust storm when Mariner 9 arrived, and NASA had to wait until January before the spacecraft could get good images.

When it did get those images, they revealed a surprise: volcanoes and lava flows cover large portions of the Martian surface.

Continue reading “This Martian Lava Tube Skylight is 50 Meters Across. The Biggest Lava Tube on Earth is Only 15 Meters Across”

The Colorful Walls of an Exposed Impact Crater on Mars

Impact craters have been called the “poor geologists’ drill,” since they allow scientists to look beneath to the subsurface of a planet without actually digging down. It’s estimated that Mars has over 600,000 craters, so there’s plenty of opportunity to peer into the Red Planet’s strata – especially with the incredible HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) camera on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter which has been orbiting and studying Mars from above since 2006.

Continue reading “The Colorful Walls of an Exposed Impact Crater on Mars”

Perseverance and the Quest to Find Life on Mars

I remember the Summer of 1997 when a shoebox-sized Mars rover literally broke the Internet.

Sojourner – the first rover we sent to another planet – had just landed on Mars in a giant space airbag bouncing along the surface to a safe stop. The Internet was new. And I was a young space enthusiast with a dial-up modem. For the first time, images from a space exploration mission were beamed to an audience that was connected online. Now we use the term “broke the Internet” as a hyperbolic phrase for various Internet phenomena, but interest in the Mars mission in 97 drove so many hits to NASA mirror servers around the world that global web traffic was disrupted. Patiently I watched as, line by line, orange sky to red stone, the first image posted by NASA loaded on my screen…it took about an hour. Each line resolved was like my own exploration of the planet. And finally, the landing site, in “real time”, was revealed to me and the entire world all at once. What would we discover together?

One of the first images of Sojourner from the 97 Mars Pathfinder Landing – NASA/JPL
Continue reading “Perseverance and the Quest to Find Life on Mars”

Sediments on Mars, Created By Blowing Wind or Flowing Water

The HiRISE (High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) instrument on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has given us a steady stream of images of the Martian surface. It’s been in orbit around Mars since March 2006, and has greatly outlived its intended mission length.

One of the latest Hi-PODs, or HiRISE Pictures of the Day, is this one, of sedimentary rock on Mars being eroded away.

Continue reading “Sediments on Mars, Created By Blowing Wind or Flowing Water”