While it still has a lot of mysteries for us to solve, Mars is becoming clearer to us every day, thanks to the dozen robots we currently have on the surface of the Red Planet or in its orbit.
In this latest release from the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Mars Express orbiter, a unique feature of the geology of Mars is shown with breathtaking detail.
Appearing like giant scratches on the planet’s surface, these grooves are part of a massive fault system on Mars known as the Tantalus Fossae.
In addition to the detail in the image, what we’re actually seeing is scale – these pools are up to 350 meters (1,148 ft) deep and 10 kilometers wide (6.2 miles) and can span up to 1,000 kilometers.
The image is true color, meaning it reflects what humans would see if they were to look at this area with their own eyes.
It’s not technically a ‘photo’; The image was generated from a digital terrain model of Mars and using the color channels of the High Resolution Stereo Camera on ESA’s Mars Express – but it offers an incredibly clear view of the vast region.
The image above shows a slanted perspective, while the shot below is a top-to-bottom view of Tantalus Fosse.
According to the ESA press release, the ground resolution of these images is about 18 m/pixel and the images are centered at about 43°N/257°E. Answer is on the right.
So what are we seeing?
A fossa is a hollow or depression, and the Tantalus Fossa runs along the east side of a massive, relatively flat Martian volcano called Alba Mons.
When it comes to surface area, Alba Mons is the largest volcano on Mars – its volcanic flow area extends for at least 1,350 km (840 mi). But at its highest point its height is only 6.8 kilometers.
This fossa was created when Alba Mons lifted up from the planet’s crust, distorting and breaking its surrounding area.
“The Tantalus Fosse fault is a great example of a surface feature known as a graben,” explains the release. “Each gap that formed as two parallel faults opened up, plunging into the resulting void in the middle of the rock.”
A similar feature is found in the western part of Alba Mons, known as Alba Fosse.
These images are not only beautiful to look at – they could also help us understand how the surface of Mars formed.
It is believed that all these structures did not form together, but one after the other, as a result of which some cisterns intersect.
For example, the impact crater you see in the images has grabs running around it, suggesting that the crater was there first. In the top two images, you can see a small crater on the left that is above the trough and is probably smaller.
Mars Express has been orbiting Mars for more than 18 years. We look forward to seeing more of its amazing views of our neighboring planet.