Images from the Martian region of Pyrrhae Regio, taken from data collected in August by the High-resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) of ESA’s European Express agency’s Mars Express mission, reveal signs of various processes that have hit Mars in the past . This mission has been mapping the Red Planet since early 2004, and the new photos show the result of the collapse of a piece of land, a sign of the turbulent and dynamic past of Mars’ surface.
The portion of the Red Planet shown in the image below identifies a number of processes taking place: on the left of the picture, craters are caused by the effects of bodies that came from space and reached the surface of the planet . The interior of one of the largest basins extends for about 40 kilometers, and contains cuts and markings that formed after the crater. For the researchers, hot and dissolved rocks must have been thrown during the crater formation and, after cooling, led to the scar-like formations.
Despite the rough terrain, there is a section of the surface which for some reason is relatively smooth – although it is possible to see the route being traced by two channels that formed as the water flow through sediments and network natural drainage. The end of these channels reaches sunken and irregular terrain, known as “chaotic terrain” – aptly named, incidentally.
In this area, the ground becomes uneven which must have formed as the ice below the surface and the sediment began to melt. This melting may have been due to several factors, such as volcanic lava flows and climate changes, for example. This changing layer caused the surface above it to collapse, in a process that can happen quickly and catastrophically as the water runs fast through the Martian earth and dust.
This land consisted of melting ice, and the resulting water flowed. As such, broken “blocks” were left behind – today, these blocks are hollow cavities that had ice in the past, and their interiors reach a few kilometers deep underground near the craters. When we think of the area where Pyrrhae Regio is, these events are not surprising; to the west of the site is the Valles Marineris canyon system, one of the most extreme formations in the Solar System that is also left behind on Mars, and must have formed as the planet’s crust stretch from volcanic activity. This process caused the surface to rupture before collapsing and forming what we see today. In addition, the region has evidence of the planet’s past.
The Mars Express mission was launched in 2003 by ESA and has spent all these years producing images of the Martian surface, also studying the composition of the atmosphere and analyzing how natural phenomena interact with the Martian environment.
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