mars Mars Express Provides Deeper Understanding of Red Planet

The European Space Agency's Mars Express, after taking some time out to assist in the recent landing of NASA's Curiosity rover, has returned to its primary mission of studying the diverse geology and atmosphere of the 'Red Planet' from orbit.

The European Space Agency's Mars Express, after taking some time out to assist in the recent landing of NASA's Curiosity rover, has returned to its primary mission of studying the diverse geology and atmosphere of the 'Red Planet' from orbit.

Earlier in 2012, the craft observed the 120 km wide Hadley Crater, images of which provide evidence of multiple subsequent impacts within the main crater wall, reaching depths of up to 2600 m below the surrounding surface.

This region imaged on 9 April 2012 by the High Resolution Stereo Camera on Mars Express shows the crater which lies to the west of the Al-Qahira Vallis in the transition zone between the old southern highlands and the younger northern lowlands.

mars Mars Express Provides Deeper Understanding of Red Planet

Hadley is named after George Hadley (1685-1768), British lawyer and meteorologist, whose name was also given to the 'Hadley cell', a circulation system in Earth's atmosphere, which transports heat and moisture from the tropics up to higher latitudes.

The images show that Hadley Crater was struck multiple times by large asteroids and/or comets after its initial formation and subsequent infilling with lava and sediments. Some of these later impacts have also been partly buried, with subtle hints of a number of crater rims to the west (top), and wrinkle ridges to the north (right side) of the main crater floor as shown in the first image at the top of the page.

In the image, one side of the crater appears shallower than the opposite side. This difference can be explained by an erosion process known as mass wasting. This is where surface material moves down a slope under the force of gravity.

Mass wasting can be initially started by a range of processes including earthquakes, erosion at the base of the slope, ice splitting the rocks or water being introduced into the slope material, In this case there is no clear indication which process caused it, or over what timescales this may have occurred.

Of particular interest to scientists studying the geology of Mars are the ejecta of the smaller craters within Hadley. Two of them, one to the west (top), and the deepest one in the middle of the first image, show evidence for volatiles, possibly water ice beneath the surface.

With the impact that forms the craters, this ice would mix with surrounding materials to form a kind of 'mud', which would then spread over the surface as ejecta.

Scientists hypothesise that the volatiles excavated by the impacts may indicate the presence of ice to a depths of hundreds of metres, this being the difference in depth between the surface and the depths of the two craters.

This deep view into the martian crust within the walls of Hadley Crater provides scientists an insight into the history of Mars. Between Mars Express, Curiosity and others, the astronomy textbooks of tomorrow are being written today.