The Tharsis Region of Mars is Peppered With These Strange Pit Craters. Now They’ve Been Found Elsewhere

An Atypical Pit Crater in ancient terrain near Elysium Mons, as seen by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UArizona.

Pit craters are found on solid bodies throughout our Solar System, including Earth, Venus, the Moon, and Mars. These craters – which are not formed by impacts — can be indications of underground lava tubes, which are created when the top of a stream of molten rock solidifies and the lava inside drains away, leaving a hollow tube of rock. If a portion of the roof of the tube is unsupported, parts of it may fall in, making a hole or a pit along the lava tube’s path.

Continue reading “The Tharsis Region of Mars is Peppered With These Strange Pit Craters. Now They’ve Been Found Elsewhere”

A New Map of Mars, Made From 51,000 Orbital Images

Seen are six views of the Nili Fossae region of Mars captured by the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars, or CRISM, one of the instruments aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The varying colors represent minerals on the Martian surface seen in different wavelengths of light. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/JHU-APL

When NASA sent the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) to the red planet in 2006, the spacecraft took an instrument with it called CRISM—Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars. CRISM’s job is to produce maps of Mars’ surface mineralogy. It’s been an enormous success, but unfortunately, the loss of its last cryocooler in 2017 means the spectrometer can only undertake limited observations.

But CRISM is going out with a bang, creating one final image of the surface of Mars that NASA will release in batches over the next six months.

Continue reading “A New Map of Mars, Made From 51,000 Orbital Images”

This Bizarre Terrain on Mars is Caused by Water Ice and Carbon Dioxide

Spring fans and polygons on Mars, as seen by the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UArizona.

From orbit, this landscape on Mars looks like a lacy honeycomb or a spider web. But the unusual polygon-shaped features aren’t created by Martian bees or spiders; they are actually formed from a ongoing process of seasonal change from created from water ice and carbon dioxide.

Continue reading “This Bizarre Terrain on Mars is Caused by Water Ice and Carbon Dioxide”

This Crater on Mars is Just a Couple of Years Old

A recently formed impact crater on Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UArizona

Changes are always taking place on Mars, from factors like seasonal variations and wind. But there’s one other aspect that changes the surface of Mar quite often: impacts.

Here’s a new impact crater that was seen by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Exactly when the crater formed is not known, but this image was taken on July 24, 2020 and in a previous image of this site taken in 2018, the crater is not there.

Continue reading “This Crater on Mars is Just a Couple of Years Old”

This is a Dust Avalanche on Mars

HiRISE Spots Slope Streaks Fanning Out on Mars Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UArizona

For decades, scientists have observed dark landslides called slope streaks on Mars. First seen by the Viking orbiters in the 1970s, every orbiter mission since has observed them, but the mechanism behind the slope streaks has been hotly debated: could they be caused by water activity on the Red Planet, or are they the result of some sort of dry mechanics?

Turns out, the leading candidate is “dry.” But scientists with the Mars Odyssey mission have verified an additional culprit behind the slope streaks: carbon dioxide frost.

Continue reading “This is a Dust Avalanche on Mars”

Eight Missions are Getting Extensions, Most Exciting: OSIRIS-REx is Going to Asteroid Apophis

An artist's illustration of NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft approaching asteroid Bennu with its sampling instrument extended. Image Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

NASA has granted mission extensions to eight different planetary missions, citing the continued excellent operations of the spacecraft, but more importantly, the sustained scientific productivity of these missions, “and the potential to deepen our knowledge and understanding of the solar system and beyond.” Each mission will be extended for three more years.

One of the most exciting extensions gives a new mission to the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, sending it to one of the most infamous asteroids of them all, the potentially hazardous asteroid Apophis.

Continue reading “Eight Missions are Getting Extensions, Most Exciting: OSIRIS-REx is Going to Asteroid Apophis”

Perseverance Finally Spots its Own Parachute on the Surface of Mars

The parachute of the Perseverance rover lies on the Martian regolith in the distance. Sol 404 - MastCam-Z image. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/Kevin M. Gilk

More than 13 months after the Perseverance rover landed on Mars (on February 18, 2021), the rover’s cameras have finally spotted some of the parts of the Mars 2020 landing system that got the rover safely to the ground.  The parachute and backshell were imaged by Perseverance’s MastCam-Z, seen off in the distance, just south of the rover’s current location. The image was taken on Sol 404, or April 6, 2022 on Earth.

Continue reading “Perseverance Finally Spots its Own Parachute on the Surface of Mars”

Mars Orbiter Captures Images of China’s Rover From Space

The Chinese Zhurong rover landed on Mars in May 2021.This HiRISE image, acquired on 11 March 2022, shows the rover's new location. Credit: NASA/JPL/UofA

China’s Tianwen-1 lander and Zhurong rover touched down on the Martian plain Utopia Planitia on May 14, 2021 after spending about three months orbiting the Red Planet. While the Chinese Space Agency has shared images of the rover and lander (including a cute family portrait taken by a wireless remote camera), NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has been following the rover’s travels from above.

Continue reading “Mars Orbiter Captures Images of China’s Rover From Space”