Bill DunfordFeb 23, 2015

Clouds and Chasmata

We have some new Martian landscapes to explore.

This month the European Space Agency added hundreds of images to the archive of data sent home by the Mars Express orbiter. The new material includes observations made by the High Resolution Stereo Camera through June of 2014. Some of these pictures were taken during Mars Express orbits numbered 13,000 and beyond--that represents a lot of work the Mars Express team has accomplished since their robotic spacecraft arrived at the planet in 2003. Over the years their efforts have yielded some of the most important and beautiful surveys of the Martian deserts we have.

This latest batch is a worthy addition. I've processed two striking examples. The first includes several chasmata, Mars' famously dramatic canyons, including Juventae Chasma, where water was released in catastrophic floods to form the channels of Maja Valles. The same picture even contains a section of Valles Marineris, Coprates Chasma, filled with morning mist. 

Chasmata The Mars Express orbiter captured this striking view of rugged Martian landscapes extending from a mist-filled Coprates Chasma in the south, to Juventae Chasma and the outflow channels of Maja Valles in the north. Juventae Chasma, the box canyon near the center of the image, is about 100 km wide.Image: ESA / DLR / FU Berlin / Bill Dunford

Dry as it is today, Mars still wrings beauty out of what little water remains. Here are the spiraling, sculpted ices of the north polar cap, and clouds circling the pole, from the plains of Vastitas Borealis in the north, all the way down to Tantalus Fossae and Tempe Terra in the south.

Clouds Over the North
Clouds Over the North The north polar cap of Mars, with water ice clouds sweeping over the plains of Vastitas Borealis. The ice cap spans roughly 1000 kilometers. Observed by the Mars Express orbiter in May 2014.Image: ESA / DLR / FU Berlin / Bill Dunford

For me at least, wandering Mars never gets old, and Mars never seems to exhaust its supply of heartbreaking beauty.

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