The Syrtis Major Volcanic Province - The Martian Surface

Acquired by the High Resolution Stereo Camera on ESA’s Mars Express Satellite, this image depicts a detailed region of the Martian Nili Fossae Graben system. This system is an area of great interest to geologists due to the variety of its landscape. The graben system contains numerous troughs, plateaus, impact craters and depressions. Planetary Scientists are actively studying the data collected from ESA’s Mars Express through images similar to this.

Credit & Copyright: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO


hannah: Surface of Mars, photographed by Mars Express, 25th November 2005.

Image runs from 32°S 201°E about 710 km due south across the Terra Sirenum highlands to 44°S 201°E. The Sirenum Fossae run across the top of the 2nd image. The 5th and 6th images show a central section of the 300 km-wide Newton Crater, including what looks like part of the central peak complex (notice dunes, dark blue, on the left hand side).

Composite of 3 visible light images for colour, and one monochrome image for detail. Colour balance is not naturalistic.

Image credit: ESA. Composite: AgeOfDestruction.


Mars in 3D

Digital Terrain Models (DTMs) allow scientists to ‘stand’ on planetary surfaces. Although ordinary images can give spectacular bird’s-eye views, they can only convey part of the picture. They miss out on the topography, or the vertical elevation of the surroundings. That’s where Mars Express comes in.

The DTM can instantly tell researchers the slope of hillsides or the height of cliffs, the altitude and slope of lava flows or desert plains. It also helps planetary scientists to better interpret other data sets, for example the results of the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding (MARSIS).

The Mars Express DTM is the most detailed topographic data set ever released for Mars. Its release has been made possible by processing individual image swaths taken by the HRSC as Mars Express sweeps through its orbit. The individual swaths are then put together into mosaics that cover large regions. The high-resolution images used have a resolution of 10 m/pixel. The DTM elevation data derived from these images is provided in pixels of up to 50 m, with a height accuracy of 10 m.

The orbit of Mars Express determines the resolution of its pictures. When it is closest to the surface, it can take the most detailed pictures.

Credit: ESA

Mars’ potato-shaped moon Phobos will be receiving a fly-by of ESA’s Mars Express spacecraft this Sunday! Zipping by 28 feet above its surface, the spacecraft will be traveling too close and too fast for any photo ops, but the science collected from this fly-by will provide the most accurate details yet of the 27 x 22 x 18km moon’s gravitational field, which in turn, will enable us to better understand its internal structure.

“At just 45 km from the surface, our spacecraft is passing almost within touching distance of Phobos…we’ve been carrying out maneuvers every few months to put the spacecraft on track and, together with the ground stations that will be monitoring it on its close approach, we are ready to make some extremely accurate measurements at Phobos.” stated Michael Denis, the Mars Express Operations Manager [source]

As the spacecraft nears Phobos, it will be pulled off course by the moon’s gravity, altering its velocity by a mere few centimeters per second. As these measurements are sent back as radio signals from Mars Express, Earthly scientists will then translate them to determine the mass and and density structure within the moon. This data will assist in addressing questions of origin pertaining to Phobos’ planetary sibling, Deimos, as well.

How does this work? Mars Express possesses a high-resolution stereo camera which has been taking photos of Phobos against the background star field in the previous weeks leading up to this 35 hour tracking sequence: before, during and after the close encounter with Phobos. In addition to researching obtained toward its gravitational field, Mars Express will take measurements on the influence of solar wind on the moon’s surface.

“By making close flybys of Phobos with Mars Express in this way, we can help to put constraints on the origin of these mysterious moons…Mars Express entered orbit around the Red Planet exactly ten years ago this week – this close flyby of Phobos is certainly an exciting way to celebrate!”
- Olivier Witasse, Mars Express Project Scientist at ESA [source]

Phobos’ relative size compared to the Alpes and town of Grenoble, France.

Not so lumpy now, eh?

Excerpts and information from the article ‘Mars Express heading towards daring flyby of Phobos’. For further details on this marvelous spacecraft, ESA put together a 10-year video montage of Mars Express highlights, providing insight into the sophisticated equipment on board, which you can accompany with the 90-minute replay of ESA’s Mars Express conference from June 2013, which highlights the key scientific discoveries of the mission along with a new mineral atlas created to chart the geological history of Mars.


Martian Latte - a Mosaic of the South Pole of Mars
Photo by ESA/G. Neukum (Freie Universitaet, Berlin)/Bill Dunford 

The Mars Express orbiter has been circling the fourth rock from the Sun for 10 years now, taking thousands of observations. Bill Dunford collected quite a few of those images and created this jaw-dropping mosaic of the south pole of Mars. It’s not quite what the eye would see; what’s shown as red is actually near infrared, invisible to us but easily seen by the camera on the spacecraft. Kilometers-thick water ice covers the pole, capped itself by a layer of carbon dioxide ice a few meters thick. That is mixed with the rusty dust eternally blowing in the Martian winds, creating what looks more like something you’d order at a coffee shop rather than the frigid nether regions of a nearby world

FROM The Universe in pictures: The best space photos of 2013 by Phil Plait

Mars Express Image of the Martian North Pole
A mosaic of 57 separate pictures, enough to cover the 1,000-kilometer-wide (600-mile-wide) ice cap // Photo by ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum) image processing by F. Jansen (ESA)

On June 2, 2003, the European Space Agency launched the Mars Express probe to the red planet. To celebrate the 10th anniversary of launch, the ESA released this devastating picture of the north polar ice cap of Mars. 

The ice there is mostly water ice, permanently frozen. However, there’s a thin layer of frozen carbon dioxide—dry ice—that coats it every winter and sublimates (turns directly from a solid into a gas) every summer.

That means the ice cap changes all the time, making it a target of study.

From Bad Astronomy

Fly through a canyon on Mars

Glide through part of the largest canyon on Mars, Valles Marineris, in this stunning colour movie from ESA’s Mars Express. Valles Marineris is not just the largest canyon on Mars, but at 4000 km long, 200 km wide and 10 km deep it is the largest in the entire Solar System.

The movie focuses on an enclosed 8 km-deep trough in the northern most part of Valles Marineris, called Hebes Chasma. The movie glides over impact craters pockmarking the plains separating the troughs, down cliff faces scarred by landslides, and along the rough valley floor.

In some parts of the valley Mars Express has detected water-bearing minerals, suggesting that significant quantities of water may have once flowed here.

The formation of Hebes Chasma is likely connected to the nearby volcanic Tharsis region, home to the planet’s vast Olympus Mons volcano.

During periods of intense volcanism the whole region stretched upwards, causing tremendous stress in the crust further way. Unable to withstand the strain, the crust ripped open, collapsing into the chasms found in and around Valles Marineris.

Image credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum)

Access the video here.


gwen: Surface of Mars, photographed by Mars Express, 22nd August 2007.

Image runs southwest from 71°S 56°E, just south of the Dorsa Brevia, to 80°S 34°E, just west of the Promethei Rupes; about 615 km. The dunes (dark blue) in the 4th image are inside Main Crater (Robert Main, astronomer, 1808-1878).

Composite of 3 visible light images for colour, and one monochrome image for detail. Colours are relative, not naturalistic.

Image credit: ESA. Composite: AgeOfDestruction.

Phobos flies over Mars

Mars Express captured the 6 images in this animation on its orbit 6128 (October 10, 2008) using the Super Resolution Channel of its High Resolution Stereo Camera (SRC). Mars Express was 10,258 kilometers from Phobos when the series of images was taken. Phobos is visible against the backdrop of Mars. Phobos is much darker than Mars; the dark appearance of Mars suggests Phobos is near Mars’ terminator (day-night boundary).

Image Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum) / Emily Lakdawalla

Mars Express Orbiter Buzzes Martian Moon Phobos

On Sunday, at 5:17 p.m. GMT (12:17 p.m. EST), Europe’s Mars Express orbiter successfully completed a daring low-pass of Mars’ largest moon Phobos. In an effort to precisely measure the gravitational field of the moon, the 10 year-old mission was sent on a trajectory that took it only 45 kilometers (28 miles) from the dusty surface, the closest any spacecraft has ever come to the natural satellite. Read more


The intriguing mounds of Juventae Chasma revealed by Mars Express 

Intriguing mounds of light-toned layered deposits sit inside Juventae Chasma, surrounded by a bed of soft sand and dust.

The origin of the chasma is linked to faulting associated with volcanic activity more than 3 billion years ago, causing the chasma walls to collapse and slump inwards, as seen in the blocky terrain in the right-hand side of this image.

At the same time, fracturing and faulting allowed subsurface water to spill out and pool in the newly formed chasm. Observations by ESA’s Mars Express and NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter show that the large mounds inside the chasma consist of sulphate-rich materials, an indication that the rocks were indeed altered by water.

The mounds contain numerous layers that were most likely built up as lake-deposits during the Chasma’s wet epoch. But ice-laden dust raining out from the atmosphere – a phenomenon observed at the poles of Mars – may also have contributed to the formation of the layers.

While the water has long gone, wind erosion prevails, etching grooves into the exposed surfaces of the mounds and whipping up the surrounding dust into ripples.

The image was taken by the high-resolution stereo camera on ESA’s Mars Express on 4 November 2013 (orbit 12 508), with a ground resolution of 16 m per pixel. The image centre is at about 4°S / 298°E.

Credits: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum)

Battered Tharsis Tholus Volcano On Mars |

The latest image released from Mars Express reveals a large extinct volcano that has been battered and deformed over the aeons.

By Earthly standards, Tharsis Tholus is a giant, towering 8 km above the surrounding terrain, with a base stretching over 155 x 125 km. Yet on Mars, it is just an average-sized volcano. What marks it out as unusual is its battered condition.

Shown in images taken by the HRSC high-resolution stereo camera on the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft, the volcanic edifice has been marked by dramatic events.

At least two large sections have collapsed around its eastern and western flanks during its four-billion-year history and these catastrophes are now visible as scarps up to several kilometres high. continue reading


te coule un drôle de regard: Surface of Mars, photographed by Mars Express, 23rd December 2008.

1°N to 14°S, 64°E on the Terra Tyrrhena. For scale, Verlaine Crater - divided between the 5th and 6th images - is about 40 km across. The crater at bottom left of the 7th image is only a few degrees north of this gif.

Verlaine Crater is named after Verlaine, a village of about 3,500, rather than the groundbreaking queer poet Paul-Marie Verlaine (1844-1896). Curiously the IAU record the village as being in France, while it appears to be in the largely French-speaking Walloon Region of Belgium.

Composite of 3 visible light images for colour, and 1 monochrome image for detail. 

Image credit: ESA. Composite: AgeOfDestruction.

Hebes Chasma:This martian abyss, more than 4 times as wide and deep as the Grand Canyon, is an enclosed, almost 8 km-deep trough stretching 315 km in an east–west direction and 125 km from north to south at its widest point. It sits about 300 km north of the vast Valles Marineris canyon.

The Martian North Pole

This space image shows the north polar ice cap of Mars, presented as a mosaic of 57 separate images from the High Resolution Stereo Camera on ESA’s Mars Express. Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin–G. Neukum) image processing by F. Jansen (ESA)

The effect of the winds of Mars by europeanspaceagency on Flickr.

Via Flickr:
Here on Earth, we are used to the wind shaping our environment over time, forming smooth, sculpted rocks and rippling dunes. In this way, Mars is more similar to Earth than you might expect.

On the Red Planet, strong winds whip dust and sand from the surface into a frenzy, moving it across the planet at high speeds. These winds can hit 100 km/h, enough to create giant dust storms that settle across huge swathes of Mars, lasting for many days or even weeks.

As these winds travel they carve their surroundings, eroding and smoothing and gradually wearing away the planet’s surface features over millions of years.

Evidence of these processes can be seen in this image from ESA’s Mars Express orbiter. The image shows part of the Arabia Terra region, which is scattered with craters of varying sizes and ages. The craters in this image, caused by impacts in Mars’ past, all show different degrees of erosion. Some still have defined outer rims and clear features within them, while others are much smoother and featureless, almost seeming to run into one another or merge with their surroundings.

The largest crater in this image also has the steepest rim. With a diameter of some 70 km, this crater dominates the left, southern, side of the frame. At first glance, this image seems to show something amazing in this crater, and in one of its neighbours to the right: is this a hint of blue liquid water? No, it is an optical illusion caused by the image processing. The blue-hued patches lying within the ragged craters are actually dark sediments that have built up over time. Again, this is due to the winds, which carry dark, volcanic, basalt-rich deposits across the planet.

This colour image was taken by Mars Express’s High Resolution Stereo Camera on 19 November 2014, during orbit 13728. The image resolution is about 20 m per pixel.

Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

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The view from Mars - new video released by ESA shows what it’s like to orbit the red planet. By ASHLEY COLLMAN via Daily Mail UK

[Image credits: First image-gif made by The Science of Reality, second image via Daily Mail, video credit via ESA.] 

The Mars Webcam (VMC camera) on board the European Space Agency’s Mars Express captured many images during a full orbit, which have been sequenced to create this video.” via

We’ve all seen the photos and images of Earth taken from space while space stations orbit our home planet. But one perspective no human has seen if the view orbiting Mars - our neighbor red planet. 

Now, thanks to satellite imaging taken by the European Space Agency’s Mars Express probe you can actually experience what it would be like to orbit the planet.

The video zooms in and out on the planet as Mars spins on it’s axis. 

The Express satellite was launched in 2003 and started taking data on the planet in early 2004. The main goal of the mission was to figure out if there is or was ever any water on the planet. 

Originally the structure had two parts, the satellite and a lander called the Beagle 2. Beagle 2 was supposed to land on the planet on December 25, 2003 but failed. It wasn’t too much of a surprise though, since nearly half of all landing attempts have failed.

The satellite side of the project however, has been quite successful and earned five extensions, the most recent going until 2014. According to measurements taken last year, the satellite has enough fuel to last another 13 years in space.

Watch full video here.

ESA’s Mars Express radar gives strong evidence for former Mars ocean

ESA’s Mars Express has returned strong evidence for an ocean once covering part of Mars. Scientists analysed more than two years of data retreived by the MARSIS radar and found that the northern plains of Mars are covered in low-density material reminiscent of an ocean floor, possibly ice-rich sedimentary deposits.

The existence of oceans on ancient Mars has been suspected before and features reminiscent of shorelines have been tentatively identified in images from various spacecraft. But it remains a controversial issue.

Two oceans have been proposed: 4 billion years ago, when warmer conditions prevailed, and also 3 billion years ago when subsurface ice melted following a large impact, creating outflow channels that drained the water into areas of low elevation.

This later ocean would however have been temporary. Within a million years or less, the water would have either frozen back in place and been preserved underground again, or turned into vapour and lifted gradually into the atmosphere.


shannon: Surface of Mars, photographed by Mars Express, 28th October 2005.

Image runs from 63°S 205°E on the Terra Sirenum about 830 km due south to 78°S 205°E among the Ultima Scopuli. The crater seen in the 5th and 6th images is Reynolds (Osborne Reynolds, engineer & physicist, 1842-1912; see also: Reynolds number).

Composite of 3 visible light images for colour, and one monochrome image for detail. 

Image credit: ESA. Composite: AgeOfDestruction.