Spacecraft sees deep fractures on Mars

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Newly released images from ESA’s Mars Express show Nili Fossae, a system of deep fractures around the giant Isidis impact basin. Some of these incisions into the martian crust are up to 500 m deep and probably formed at the same time as the basin.
In this photo: Nili Fossae in perspective.

Photo by European Space Agency

Newly released images from ESA’s Mars Express show Nili Fossae, a system of deep fractures around the giant Isidis impact basin. Some of these incisions into the martian crust are up to 500 m deep and probably formed at the same time as the basin. In this photo: Nili Fossae in perspective.

Newly released images from ESA’s Mars Express show Nili Fossae, a system of deep fractures around the giant Isidis impact basin. Some of these incisions into the martian crust are up to 500 m deep and probably formed at the same time as the basin.

Nili Fossae is a ‘graben’ system on Mars, northeast of the Syrtis Major volcanic province, on the northwestern edge of the giant Isidis impact basin. Graben refers to the lowered terrain between two parallel faults or fractures in the rocks that collapses when tectonic forces pull the area apart. The Nili Fossae system contains numerous graben concentrically oriented around the edges of the basin.

It is thought that flooding of the basin with basaltic lava after the impact that created it resulted in subsidence of the basin floor, adding stress to the planet’s crust, which was released by the formation of the fractures.

A strongly eroded impact crater is visible to the bottom right of the image. It measures about 12 km across and exhibits an ejecta blanket, usually formed by material thrown out during the impact. Two landslides have taken place to the west of the crater. Whether they were a direct result of the impact or occurred later is unknown.

A smaller crater, measuring only 3.5 km across, can be seen to the left of centre in the image and this one does not exhibit any ejecta blanket material. It has either been eroded or may have been buried.

The surface material to the top left of the image is much darker than the rest of the area. It is most likely formed of basaltic rock or volcanic ash originating from the Syrtis Major region. Such lava blankets form when large amounts of low-viscosity basaltic magma flow across long distances before cooling and solidifying. On Earth, the same phenomenon can be seen in the Deccan Traps in India.

Nili Fossae interests planetary scientists because observations taken with telescopes on the Earth and published in 2009 have shown that there is a significant enhancement in Mars’ atmospheric methane over this area, suggesting that methane may be being produced there. Its origin remains mysterious, however, and could be geological or perhaps even biological.

As a result, understanding the origin of methane on Mars is high on the priority list and in 2016, ESA and NASA plan to launch the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter to investigate further. Nili Fossae will be observed with great interest.

© 2011 Space Times News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 1

RonR writes:

I imagine that I am like many other people in thinking about the utter stupidity of the US government in abandoning outer space exploration by the human being. The government says that we shall return, but unlike Douglas MacArthur I truly doubt that we ever will have men go back as far as our moon let, alone Mars. I believe that with a renewed investment in a manned space program many of the ills the US is currently faced with would/could be solved. Just look at how the race to put a man on the moon affected and effected the US employment rate, with the thousands employed in the manufacture of the equipment needed for this race. then look at the high(er) level of education that came into play, of how out schools were really teaching the sciences to the students, whereas today these students are merely being fed pablum! Coming to my mind as perhaps the most common, or least one of the most common applications of the space race coming into general use was/is the personal computer, would these amazing little brains be as easily used today, if not for the miniturztion need for the space capsules? Even closer to home is in virtually everyone's kitchen today, TEFLON, which I believe to be a direct by-product of the heat shields needed for re-entry to the Earth's atmosphere! Alas though, I have begun rambling so I'll shut my trap, for now, and cease voicing my opinion on the stupidity of those all knowing genusies "leading" us today. RonR

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