New NASA map shows evidence of Martian lakes and quakes

15 Dec 2014

Photo of the surface of Mars taken by the Curiosity Rover. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

A new map released by the US Geological Survey (USGS) charts the most detail of Mars’ geological make-up ever, showing evidence of ancient lakes and quakes.

The colour-coded map released by the USGS covers Mars’ western Candor Chasma canyon within the planet’s Valles Marineris region and appears to show evidence of large movements of sediment, which would indicate the existence of ancient ‘marsquakes’.

These incidents of quakes then created a series of low-lying hills in the region from the sediments that had been at one point found within Martian lakes.

A portion of the Mars topographical map released by the USGS. Follow the link to a full explanation of all details of the map. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona/USGS

As the largest canyon in the entire solar system, Valles Marineris is about 4,000km long, but according to US space agency NASA, the formation of its hills had been under much discussion over the last number of decades and had included theories, among the possibility of lakes, of arising from potential volcanic eruptions under glaciers, or the result of a build-up of deposits due to wind-blown sand and dust.

The mapping effort was achieved with the help of NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which contains the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera, capable of revealing topographical detail as small as a desk.

The map’s author, Chris Okubo of the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona, said this new map shows that at the time these sediments were deposited, a part of west Candor Chasma, specifically Candor Colles, contained numerous shallow, spring-fed lakes.

“These lakes helped to trap wind-blown sand and dust, which accumulated over time and formed the extensive sedimentary deposits we see today.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic