Cosmic Diary by Lori Fenton

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Updated: 1 hour 16 min ago

The spire in Eberswalde crater

October 10, 2016

A Piece of Mars: OK, you have to bring out the red/blue glasses for this one. (Or click here if you’re missing your glasses and want the black and white version.) Eberswalde crater has some lovely layered deposits, long ago laid down by running water, and since eroded steadily by the wind. The wind leaves behind the most resistant parts (mainly fluvial channels that were more cemented). The center of this image shows a tall spire: the tallest of the flat layers (top of the “wedding cake”) is 290 m (950 ft) across and casts a shadow indicating it’s 200 m (656 ft) above the next layer down. That central spike is another 70 m (230 ft) taller yet, by itself nearly rivaling the “Totem Pole” in Monument Valley. Check out the rest of the red/blue anaglyph, it’s stunning. (HiRISE, ESP_047185_1560/ESP_047119_1560, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Windblown: ancient and recent

October 03, 2016

A Piece of Mars: HiRISE is celebrating 10 years of success by showcasing its first high resolution image, taken back in 2006. Here is a portion of it, shown at 1/4 the full resolution (the scene is 2.5×2.5 km across). I highly recommend downloading the HiRISE image viewer and looking at the whole thing, it’s an amazing landscape. The portion shown here has many different ripple-like features, formed by a wind blowing from left to right. Notice that those in the middle and middle-left are a bit fainter: these are ripple-like features that were carved into the bedrock by the wind, and they may be much older than the sharper-edged ones nearby. (HiRISE TRA_000823_1720, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Is it windblown or not?

September 26, 2016

A Piece of Mars: This 480×270 m (0.30×0.17 mi) scene shows what are being called “ridges”. Were these ridges once dunes that have now been stabilized and eroded? They have some dune-like characteristics: nearly parallel crests, one slope is steeper than the other, that steep slope seems to have exposed layers, and sometimes the crests meet in what is called a “Y-junction” (based on the letter’s shape). But although they’re common in some areas on Mars, they’re not like any dunes or ripples I’m familiar with. I’m inclined to think they’re not ancient dunes, but it’s likely that the wind had a hand in their formation. I’m open to suggestions… (HiRISE, ESP_046998_1365 NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Light and dark

September 19, 2016

A Piece of Mars: This 0.96×0.54 km (0.6×0.34 mi) late winter scene is a study in contrast. The dark top half is uniformly rippled. This is the shady surface of the main windward side of one of Mars’ biggest dunes, in Kaiser crater. On the bottom is the sunlit side of the dune, strewn with gullies colored by CO2 frost (white), dark basaltic sand (black), and what may be oxidized fines (orange). (HiRISE ESP_045614_1330, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Shades and textures

September 12, 2016

A Piece of Mars: This 480×270 m (0.3×0.17 mi) scene shows the contact between two very different terrains. On the left is a bright surface with polygonal cracks (characteristic of periglacial terrain – this is at a high latitude). On the right is a dark rippled sand sheet that superposes the polygonally-cracked surface. The long meandering furrows might be the beginnings of polygonal cracking in the sand, which might expand if wind doesn’t erase them. (HiRISE PSP_006473_1125, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Eroded dune

September 05, 2016

A Piece of Mars: Barchan dunes on Mars have a characteristic crescent shape, with a steep slope (“slip face”) on the inside of the sharpest curve (see examples like this, this, these, or this). This image (873×491 m, or 0.54×0.31 mi) shows an example of a dune that probably looked a bit like those other dunes did once, but it’s been highly eroded so that the characteristic curved slip face is no longer the steepest slope. This dune is located pretty far north, so I’m betting it’s been stabilized by ice, so that the wind can no longer easily reshape it into a typical barchan. (HiRISE ESP_036404_2590, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Where does the windblown stuff come from?

August 29, 2016

A Piece of Mars: How far do windblown materials move on Mars? This scene (0.9×1.2 km, 0.56×0.75 mi) shows a bright layer of bedrock (top right) that is eroding, exposing a darker, bluish rock (bottom left). Ripples 5-20 m wide have slowly moved towards the lower right, with some migrating into the darker terrain. Those near the interface show that they’re made of stuff from the brighter terrain, as they are still brighter than the dark, bluish bedrock. But those at the bottom are much more blue. This means that this type of ripple incorporates material from nearby rocks: unlike other kinds of windblown material, they don’t travel far from their source. (HiRISE, ESP_017262_1560, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Erosional remnants

August 22, 2016

A Piece of Mars: The erosionally-streamlined bright areas are on high ground. They are remnants of a vast dusty mantle that once covered this whole area – the rest of it has been blown away. The surrounding regions (check out the whole image) are still covered by that mantle, but here you can see through to the underlying, dark surface made of dark, cratered lava flows. (HiRISE ESP_017914_1685, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Ancient ripples?

August 15, 2016

A Piece of Mars: Potential signs of wind activity are everywhere on Mars. Take this 0.96×0.54 km (0.6×0.34 mi) scene, which is on bedrock dated to be several billion years old. There’s a fabric of ridges trending from the upper right to lower left. The smaller and smoother ones are clearly windblown bedforms. The larger, bright ones are shedding boulders, so if they’re old bedforms then they’ve been lithified. How old are they? Billions of years old? Or did they form sometime in the intervening years? (HiRISE ESP_046389_1695, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Fossil dunes

August 08, 2016

A Piece of Mars: This 1.92×1.08 km (1.19x 0.67 mi) scene shows eroded ridges that are, in fact, lithified dunes. They are so old that you might not recognize them as dunes without more context. This doesn’t happen much on Earth, where inactive dunes are quickly eroded, buried, and/or destroyed by other geologic processes, so enjoy this uniquely martian wonder! (HiRISE ESP_046597_1670, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Dunes not in the global dune database

August 01, 2016

A Piece of Mars: Ten years ago I participated in a global survey of martian dunes. But we missed a few dune fields, like these beauties. They’re small, low, and in rugged terrain, which made them difficult to spot in the lower resolution data set we used. I keep a list of dune fields we’ll have to add if we get a chance to update the database. This scene is km (0.6×0.34 mi) wide. (HiRISE ESP_043582_1555, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

When the martian surface is eroded, pretty things emerge

July 25, 2016

A Piece of Mars: Just like at Earth’s Grand Canyon, erosion on Mars has created some really beautiful landscapes. This 480×270 m (0.3×0.17 mi) scene shows rugged terrain that was once buried in sediment. Does the texture here represent the landscape before it was buried, or was it created in the process of scouring off all that overlying sediment? Probably a mixture of both. And we get a pretty view because of it! (HiRISE ESP_046198_1750, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Where we have been

July 18, 2016

A Piece of Mars: This 0.98×0.54 km (0.61×0.34 mi) scene shows ancient windblown bedforms (maybe dunes) that have been partially eroded by the wind. The wind has left behind ghostly stripes: these are remnants of where these things once were, back when they were still actively migrating. Some of the bedforms have been almost entirely erased, except for those remaining bits. Much smaller (2-3 m wavelength) ripples have since formed between some of them, probably made from material scavenged from the larger bedforms. (HiRISE ESP_037700_1710, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)