This fascinating texture is within a crater located in Mars’ southern mid-latitudes, and may be the result of ancient glacial-like flows.
The “brain coral” texture seen here is possibly the result of temperature fluctuations in subsurface ice, according to one HiRISE researcher. As the underground ice expands and contracts it reshapes the surface above.
Features like this are estimated to be tens of millions of years old.
This image is of interest not only because of the curious texture of the landscape but also because of how the image was acquired. Normally the HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) camera has its image targets coordinated beforehand so that its alignment will be conducive to all scientific instruments on board the MRO.
Since the spacecraft must point — or “roll” — to aim at observation targets to the left or right of its ground track (the position on Mars’ surface directly below it) the targets for all science missions really have to be in the same general area at any one time for efficient operation. These are referred to by the MRO science teams as “interactive observations”, or IOs.
Once the targets are coordinated with the MRO’s alignment, there’s sometimes room in the schedule to allow for more observations within the same roll position. These do not affect the spacecraft’s roll, and so are referred to as “non-interactive observations”, or NIOs.
This is how the image above was acquired… as an NIO by HiRISE from MRO.
(As in most fields of space exploration there’s no shortage of acronyms on the HiRISE team!)
In addition to team-chosen sites — like the one above — HiRISE will also observe target areas chosen by the public, as part of the HiWISH program. HiWISH offers regular folks a chance to select an area of Mars that HiRISE will take detailed images of, in effect putting one of the most advanced planetary exploration tools within everyone’s reach! Find out more about HiWISH and make your suggestion here.
HiRISE has returned more than 20,400 observations since the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter reached Mars in 2006. Each observation by this telescopic camera covers several square miles, or square kilometers, and can reveal features as small as a desk.
See more science observations from the HiRISE camera on The University of Arizona’s project site here.
Special thanks to Nicole Baugh, Targeting Specialist at HiRISE operations, for her valuable information on the spacecraft’s imaging procedure!