Saturday, September 5, 2009

Martian gullies at crater's edge

Gullies are often spotted in sloped terrain on Mars, like the ones seen here at the edge of Hale crater on Mars. This image was acquired by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter August 3, 2009; that spacecraft has been observing Mars since March 2006. Martian gullies are of great interest, since their dendritic appearance suggests that groundwater might be seeping out and flowing downhill. However, after many years of study, it is still unclear whether wet or dry processes are responsible for sculpting these gullies. Dry processes include boulders or avalanches that might carve out these gullies as rocks and gravel tumble downhill. Also keep in mind that the martian surface is too cold for liquid water to exist there. Nonetheless, any groundwater would absorb salts from the surrounding rock, which might lower its freezing point enough to exist in liquid form. And where there is liquid water, there is also the possibility for microbial life. For more details, see this press release.

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