Soaring Over Mars 05.27.09 NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter gives us an
unprecedented bird's-eye view of the Red Planet. Narrated by Rich Zurek, Project
Scientist, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
Soaring Over Mars
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter as seen many places on the planet, one of the
most interesting is one of the greatest canyon systems on Mars. This is a branch
of that canyon system, called Candor Chasma. You can see the tortured ground
that is there, the layers, the many buttes and mesas that poke up above this.
The scale of these things is such that we've looking across a couple of miles of
territory. There is no vertical exaggeration in this stereo image made by taking
images at separate times on separate orbits. Some of these buttes extend up a
football field in size.
Fault systems that produced by earthquakes, in this case Marsquakes, give us
clues as to whether this is material that was eroded away or actually whether it
was deposited and then eroded later. The stress patterns show us the canyon
formed first, was filled with material and eroded away leaving these buttes,
with the buttes being formed by more resistant rock at the top of the buttes —
darker in these images.
One of the questions we have about Mars is, where we see the effects of water on
its surface, how did that water get there? It may have been different in
different places. Did it erupt from underground as springs, for instance? Or did
it fall from the sky in rainfall? And it may have been associated with events
like impact craters. One of those impact craters is Mojave Crater.
And here we're going to look at perspective view that was formed from two images
forming a stereo pair. As you can see, water ponded on the terraces. And then it
overflowed and ran down to the next terrace. If you look at the rim of the
crater, you see channels that run right up to the top. So these aren't springs.
This must have been rainfall that carved this part of the planet.
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is able to look at not only the structure of the
surface, its topography and shape, but also its composition. We're going to zoom
in to an area called Nili Fossae that is very diverse. And that's shown here in
false color. What we're looking at are the mineral signatures — fingerprints —
that appear in reflected sunlight, although it's at wavelengths that our eyes
are not sensitive to.
Straight edges are the edges of the images that were taken, we don't have
complete coverage. What we're most interested in here are the areas that are
colored green. Those are areas in which carbonates are present. Carbonates
indicate that here's an environment that could have been conducive to life, and
if not life today, it could have preserved the signature of the life that may
have occupied in the past.
That is, the organic molecules should also be preserved today, if they were ever
produced on its surface. This very diverse area shows a complex mineral
signature and also shows that there are many different kinds of water
environments on the planet.
So water was not uniform in its activity. It may have persisted in some areas
longer than in other areas. And its interaction with the rock has left us clues
about what that ancient history was.
One of the early images taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter was of Victoria
Crater in order to help the Opportunity rover figure out which way to move
around the crater as it looked for a way to get down inside. Here you see that
image, taken from 180 miles above the surface of Mars.
We're going to use that image to zoom in and see what it would look like from
the rover's point of view, if it were on the edge of the crater looking out over
it, and then match that with an image that was actually taken from the rover
Opportunity on the Mars surface.