NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has captured an incredible snapshot of the Matara Crater on Mars. The image, taken by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera aboard the MRO, unveils spectacular gully formations on sand dunes inside the Martian crater.
The MRO snapshot showcases two gullies that have formed years ago in the southern Matara Crater. The photo shows both gullies are caked in frost, which could be a sign the they may soon become active again.
According to NASA, the two gullies, which have been photographed before, have shown signs of activity in the past. This latest HiRISE image, released by the U.S. space agency the earlier this week, is being compared with a 2010 photo of the exact same area, showing important changes in the landscape over the last eight years.
Unlike the gullies we see on Earth, the ones on the Red Planet are not formed by liquid water, NASA revealed in 2016. Instead, the Martian dune gullies are created by “the freeze and thaw of carbon dioxide frost,” the U.S. space agency explained.
Even though the gullies on Mars are not the result of water erosion, they still look strikingly similar to the ones on our home planet, hence the use of the same terminology. In fact, NASA defines Martian gullies as geographical features that sport “an alcove at the top, a channel, and an apron of deposited material at the bottom.”
The U.S. space agency points out that gullies on Mars typically become active after the seasonal frost sets in. Although the HiRISE image clearly shows the two gullies in Matara Crater are covered in frost, which is undeniably present “in and around” them, both gullies have remained dormant so far this year.
Nevertheless, HiRISE will be on the lookout for any fresh flows that might appear in the future, NASA announced.
Lasting impressions of active flows are a widespread feature on Mars. Gullies on Martian sand dunes, like these in Matara Crater, have formed during flows typically seen during seasonal frost. So far, there's no fresh flows this year, but we'll keep watch. https://t.co/lgHTMVJT8Z pic.twitter.com/3pTUzbhvc2— NASA (@NASA) April 7, 2018
“Because this activity occurs during Martian Southern hemisphere winter, it is believed to be related to carbon dioxide frost that forms as the area grows colder,” shows the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory (LPL) at the University of Arizona, in Tucson, which operates HiRISE.
Described by LPL as “the most powerful camera ever sent to another planet” due to its high-resolution capability (of up to 30 centimeters, or 11.8 inches, per pixel), HiRISE is just one of six instruments onboard the MRO, all dedicated to the study of Mars. The orbiter is equipped with a second camera, the CTX (Context Camera), which has a larger viewing angle than HiRISE, but less resolution capability, notes The TeCake.
Although the MRO has lost control of its gyroscopes since its launch in 2005, Outer Places informs, the orbiter is still able to snatch astonishing photographs of the Red Planet, just like the one captured while flying over Mars’ Matara Crater.
The Matara Crater is located in the ancient sands of Noachis Terra, one of the oldest known regions on Mars, dating back at least 3.9 billion years. According to Phys.org, Noachis Terra is so old that it has literally given its name (which translates as “the land of Noah”) to the earliest Martian era, the Noachian epoch.