Monstrous “claw marks” on the surface of Mars

This image from ESA’s Mars Express shows part of a large fault system on Mars known as the Tantalus Fossae. This image includes data collected by the Mars Express High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) on July 19, 2021. It was created using data from the nadir channel, field of view aligned perpendicular to the surface of Mars, and HRSC color channels. This is a “true color” image, reflecting what the human eye would see if looking at this region of Mars. The ground resolution is about 18 m/pixel and the images are centered at about 43°N/257°E. North is on the right. Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

This network of long grooves and rifts is part of a system of giant faults on " data-gt-translate-attributes="[{" attribute="">March known as Tantalus Fossae, and is shown here seen by the European Space Agency’s Mars Express.

At first glance, these features appear to be the result of someone raking their fingernails, or claws, across the Red Planet’s surface, digging long trenches in the process.

Although its formation is not as spectacular, Tantalus Fossae (“fossae” meaning a trough or depression) is a notable feature on Mars. This trough system flanks a sprawling low-relief Martian volcano named Alba Mons, which runs along the east side of the volcano.

Tantalus Fossae in context

This image from ESA’s Mars Express shows part of Tantalus Fossae, a vast fault system found on Mars, in a larger context.
The area outlined by the bold white box indicates the area imaged by the Mars Express High-Resolution Stereo Camera on July 19, 2021, during orbit 22173. Credit: NASA/MGS/MOLA Science Team

The pits were created when the top of Alba Mons rose, causing the surrounding surface to deform, expand and rupture. The Tantalus Fossae faults are an excellent example of a surface feature known as grabens; each trench formed when two parallel faults opened, causing rock between the two to fall into the resulting void.

Perspective view of Tantalus Fossae

This oblique perspective view of Tantalus Fossae on Mars was generated from the digital terrain model and nadir and color channels from ESA’s Mars Express High-Resolution Stereo Camera. Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

The same features can be found on the western side of Alba Mons, forming an incomplete ring around the volcano. Overall, the grabens associated with this volcano extend up to 1,000 km (620 miles) in length, up to 10 km (6.2 miles) in width, and up to 350 m (1,150 ft) in depth.

A complex story

Throughout this Mars Express image, numerous grabens can be seen running roughly northeast (lower right) to southwest (upper left).

These structures are thought not to have formed at the same time but one after the other, giving scientists the opportunity to reconstruct a past timeline and picture of what created this spectacular landscape.

The large impact crater in the center of the image, for example, is intersected by grabens, indicating that it was already present before the volcano was uplifted to create the Tantalus Fossae faults. The second largest impact crater (much smaller and lower left of the central crater) appears to overlay the faults, and is therefore likely younger.

Perspective view of Tantalus Fossae

This oblique perspective view of Tantalus Fossae on Mars was generated from the digital terrain model and nadir and color channels from ESA’s Mars Express High-Resolution Stereo Camera. Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

Looking closer, many small branching valleys can be seen in this area. These valleys appear to cut directly through the grabens and are therefore assumed to be older.

As the associated topographic view most clearly shows, the northern (right) part contains much lower terrain than the southern (left) part – in places, up to three kilometers lower in elevation. We would expect all the small branching valleys to run down the slopes of Alba Mons and merge where the ground is lowest, but that is not seen here, implying that the valleys must be from earlier times. ancients – before Alba Mons rose to carve this terrain. in what we see today.

Topography of Tantalus Fossae

This color-coded topographic image of Tantalus Fossae was created from data collected by ESA’s Mars Express on July 19, 2021, during orbit 22173. It is based on a digital terrain model of the area, from from which the topography of the landscape can be derived. Lower portions of the surface are shown in blues and purples, while higher elevation regions appear in whites and reds, as shown on the scale at top right. North is on the right. The ground resolution is about 18 m/pixel and the images are centered at about 43°N/257°E. Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

This region bears the name of Tantalus, son of Zeus and Plouton (Pluto) who, according to Greek legend, betrayed the gods and was forced by Hades to stand in water under a fruit tree. When he tried to drink, the water receded, and when he tried to eat, the branches moved out of his reach – a punishment known as Tantalus torments.

Exploring Mars

Mars Express has been orbiting the Red Planet since 2003, imagining the surface of Mars, mapping its minerals, identifying the composition and circulation of its tenuous atmosphere, probing beneath its crust and exploring how various phenomena interact in the Martian environment.

Tantalus Fossae in 3D

This stereoscopic image shows Tantalus Fossae on Mars and was generated from data captured by the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) on ESA’s Mars Express orbiter on July 19, 2021, during orbit 22173. Anaglyph , derived from data acquired by the nadir channel and a stereo channel of the HRSC, provides a three-dimensional view when viewed using red-green or red-blue glasses. Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

The mission’s High-Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC), responsible for these new images, has revealed a lot about the various features of the surface of Mars, with recent images showing everything from brain field and wind-carved ridges and grooves for volcanoes, impact craters, tectonic faults, river channels and ancient lava pools.

Comments are closed.