The results were obtained by MARSIS, the pioneering sounding radar on board ESA’s Mars Express orbiter, and provide important new clues about the still mysterious geological history of Mars.
Observations by MARSIS, the first sub-surface sounding radar used to explore a planet, strongly suggest that ancient impact craters lie buried beneath the smooth, low plains of the northern hemisphere of Mars. The technique uses echoes of radio waves that have penetrated below the surface.
MARSIS found evidence that these buried impact craters – from about 130 to 470 kilometres in diameter – are present under much of the northern lowlands. The findings appear in the 14 December issue of the journal Nature.
With MARSIS "it's almost like having X-ray vision," said Thomas R. Watters of the National Air and Space Museum's Center for Earth and Planetary Studies, Washington, and lead author of the results. "Besides finding previously unknown impact basins, we've also confirmed that some subtle, roughly circular, topographic depressions in the lowlands are related to impact features."
Studies of how Mars evolved aid understanding of early Earth. Some signs of the forces at work a few thousand million years ago are harder to detect on Earth because many of them have been obliterated by tectonic activity and erosion.
The new findings bring planetary scientists closer to understanding one of the most enduring mysteries about the geologic evolution and history of Mars. In contrast to Earth, Mars shows a striking difference between its northern and southern hemispheres. Almost the entire southern hemisphere has rough, heavily cratered highlands, while most of the northern hemisphere is smoother and lower in elevation.
Since the impacts that cause craters can happen anywhere on a planet, the areas with fewer craters are generally interpreted as younger surfaces where geological processes have erased the impact scars. The surface of Mars' northern plains is young and smooth, covered by vast amounts of volcanic lava and sediment. However, the new MARSIS data indicate that the underlying crust is extremely old.
“The number of buried impact craters larger than 200 kilometres in diameter that we have found with MARSIS,” said Jeffrey Plaut, MARSIS co-Principal Investigator, from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California, “tells us that the underlying crust in the northern lowlands must be very ancient, dating to the Early Noachian epoch (lasting from the planet's birth to about 4 thousand million years ago).” The Early Noachian was an era in which impact cratering was very intense across the Solar System.
The results suggest that the northern lowlands crust is as old as the as the oldest exposed southern highlands, also dated in the Noachian epoch, and that the dichotomy between northern and southern hemispheres probably formed very early in the history of Mars.
“These results are truly interesting and unprecedented,” added Giovanni Picardi, MARSIS Principal Investigator, from the University of Rome ‘La Sapienza’. “MARSIS can contribute to understand the geology of Mars through the analysis of the surface and sub-surface morphology. In addition, with a detailed analysis of the instrument’s data, we can also obtain valuable indications about the composition of the materials.”
ESA Media Relations Office | alfa
Significantly more productivity in USP lasers
06.12.2016 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Lasertechnik ILT
Shape matters when light meets atom
05.12.2016 | Centre for Quantum Technologies at the National University of Singapore
In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.
Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...
Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
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07.12.2016 | Health and Medicine
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07.12.2016 | Health and Medicine