NASA MRO image shows stunning formation of troughs on Mars

The US space agency NASA has shared an astonishing image of strange formations on the Martian surface captured by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The photo gives a close-up of a trough, along with channels draining into the depression. Some HiRISE images show strange-looking formations. Sometimes it helps to look at Context Camera images to understand the circumstances of a scene — like this cutout from CTX 033783_1509 — which here shows an impact crater with a central peak, and a collapse depression with concentric troughs just north of that peak.

On the floor of the trough is some grooved material that we typically see in middle latitude regions where there has been glacial flow. These depressions with concentric troughs exist elsewhere on Mars, and their origins remain a matter of debate.

NB: The Context Camera is another instrument onboard MRO, and it has a larger viewing angle than HiRISE, but less resolution capability than our camera.

The map is projected here at a scale of 50 centimeters (19.7 inches) per pixel. [The original image scale is 51.3 centimeters (20.2 inches) per pixel (with 2 x 2 binning); objects on the order of 154 centimeters (60.6 inches) across are resolved.] North is up.

The University of Arizona, Tucson, operates HiRISE, which was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colorado. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) is a multipurpose spacecraft designed to conduct reconnaissance and exploration of Marsfrom orbit. The US$720 million spacecraft was built by Lockheed Martin under the supervision of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory(JPL).

The mission is managed by the California Institute of Technology, at the JPL, in Pasadena, California, for the NASAScience Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. It was launched August 12, 2005, and attained Martian orbit on March 10, 2006. In November 2006, after five months of aerobraking, it entered its final science orbit and began its primary science phase.

As MRO entered orbit, it joined five other active spacecraft that were either in orbit or on the planet’s surface: Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Express, 2001 Mars Odyssey, and the two Mars Exploration Rovers (Spirit and Opportunity); at the time, this set a record for the most operational spacecraft in the immediate vicinity of Mars. Mars Global Surveyor and the Spirit rover have since ceased to function; the remainder remain operational as of September 2016.

MRO contains a host of scientific instruments such as cameras, spectrometers, and radar, which are used to analyze the landforms, stratigraphy, minerals, and ice of Mars. It paves the way for future spacecraft by monitoring Mars’ daily weather and surface conditions, studying potential landing sites, and hosting a new telecommunications system.

MRO’s telecommunications system will transfer more data back to Earth than all previous interplanetary missions combined, and MRO will serve as a highly capable relay satellite for future missions 2. It has enough propellant to keep functioning into the 2030s