We can now “fly over” topographically accurate landscapes of Mars thanks to Mars Express, the European Space Agency (ESA) mission to explore the red planet. Launched in June 2003 and arriving six-and-a-half months later, the Mars Express spacecraft has orbited the planet almost 12,500 times, better revealing Mars’ turbulent climatic history. It’s expected to continue orbiting and gathering data until the end of 2014.
I saw quite a few landmarks in there, including Olympus Mons, the tallest volcano in the solar system; Valles Marineris, the longest rift valley in the solar system (it’s wider than the Grand Canyon is long!); an elongated crater I’ve written about before (at the 2:20 mark, and shown at the top of this article); and the ridiculously gorgeous and very weird swirls in the terrain at the Martian north pole (though the south pole of the planet is even more jaw-droppingly beautiful).
I was also intrigued by a crater shown at the 1:50 mark, which looks like it got filled by a landslide off a nearby hill. Mars isn’t what you might call geologically active, but it does commonly suffer landslides and avalanches when the frozen carbon dioxide ice under the surface sublimates (turns directly from a solid into a gas), which can dislodge material. If that happens at the top of a hill or cliff, material can cascade down dramatically. I strongly suspect that’s what we’re seeing in this video.
Taken with the satellite’s High Resolution Stereo Camera, the video was released by the DLR German Aerospace Center.Watch this next: In search of water on Mars – Seasonal dark streaks on the Red Planet. Plus, in the archives: more satellites, more maps, and more Mars.