Mars’ Hebes Chasma

The European Space Agency’s Mars Express Orbiter recently took 3D, high-quality photos of Mars. Using its high advanced stereo camera, with a resolution of up to 15 meters per pixel, the orbiter captured images of Hebes Chasma, a strange mountain region nested inside a canyon, with channel-like fingers reaching out into the Martian landscape.

Hebes Chasma is a prominent landmark on Mars, just north of the huge Valles Marineris system (the “Grand Canyon of Mars”). The European Space Agency (ESA) described it as “an enclosed trough, with a high, flat-top mountain range right in the center.” The central mountain ascends to the same level as the surrounding plains, and at several places the canyon is over 8 km deep; for comparison, the Grand Canyon is only 1.6 km deep.

ESA’s Mars Express, which has a high resolution stereo camera (HRSC), is currently in orbit around the Red Planet. Its mission is to take photographs of the planet. Some of the photographs are in full color, some are three-dimensional, and all are high-resolution (up to 2 meters-per pixel resolution in selected areas).

At each orbital pass, the camera takes an image. Its design allows the combination of images, even when they are of different resolutions. By imaging the landscape at three different wavelengths, a stereoscopic (3D) view of Mars is created, and observers can see for the first time how the Hebes Chasma Canyon looks from different angles in high-resolution 3D.

There is evidence to suggest that liquid water once flowed in the canyon, possibly creating a vast mote around the mountain. Assuming a stream of water once existed, when the canyon was full of water, the mountain’s top was isolated. The idea of organic-based life on Mars has excited numerous sci-fi authors, and the evidence of water is inflaming the imagination of ESA researchers, as it may lead to the discovery of ancient life forms on the Mars.

TFOT reported on the first conclusive evidence for water on an extrasolar planet, a discovery made by French scientists using data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. TFOT has also covered the launches of the STS-122 Atlantis and the STS-123 Endeavour, and the discovery of an asteroid heading towards Mars.

For more information about these new photos, see ESA’s website.

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