ESA Science & Technology - Publication Archive
Living systems produce more than 90% of Earth's atmospheric methane; the balance is of geochemical origin. On Mars, methane could be a signature of either origin. Using high-dispersion infrared spectrometers at three ground-based telescopes, we measured methane and water vapor simultaneously on Mars over several longitude intervals in northern early and late summer in 2003 and near the vernal equinox in 2006. When present, methane occurred in extended plumes, and the maxima of latitudinal profiles imply that the methane was released from discrete regions. In northern midsummer, the principal plume contained ~19,000 metric tons of methane, and the estimated source strength (>=0.6 kilogram per second) was comparable to that of the massive hydrocarbon seep at Coal Oil Point in Santa Barbara, California.
Published: 20 February 2009
Aram Chaos is a crater 280 km in diameter centered at 2.5°N,
338.5°E. It is filled by chaotic terrains overlain by a dome-shaped, layered 900 m thick formation displaying
spectral signatures of ferric oxides on Thermal Emission Spectrometer (TES) and Observatoire pour la Mineralogie, L'Eau, les Glaces et L'Activite (OMEGA) medium spatial resolution data. We describe in detail the mineralogical composition, structure, and morphology of this crater fill using high-resolution data (OMEGA, Mars Orbiter Laser
Altimeter, Mars Orbiter Camera, TES, Thermal Emission Imaging System, and High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment). We infer the following formation scenario: the crater was first filled by a geological formation, the composition of which remains unclear because it is covered by dust. Widespread fracturing of this formation led to the development of chaotic terrains. Later, a second layered formation, presently dome
shaped, was emplaced unconformably on the chaotic terrains. This younger unit is composed of a bright, poorly consolidated material that contains both monohydrated sulfates and ferric oxides according to OMEGA data. The surface of this formation is partially covered by dust and displays landforms indicating that the bright material has
been mobilized by wind during or after its deposition. After its emplacement, this formation has been grooved down to various depths by large eolian erosion corridors. In these corridors, eolian removal of the bright material with a sulfate-rich matrix has left debris fans, sand sheets, and dunes, which display some of the strongest spectral
signatures of ferric oxides on Mars. Similar residual deposits enriched in ferric oxides, overlying a layered formation containing both ferric oxides and sulfates, have been observed by the Opportunity rover in Meridiani Planum, suggesting a common formation process.
Published: 09 December 2008
We present a large-scale spring hypothesis for the formation of various enigmatic light-toned deposits (LTDs) on Mars. Layered to massive LTDs occur extensively in Valles Marineris, chaotic terrains, and several large craters, in particular, those located in Arabia Terra. Most of these deposits are not easily explained with either a single process or multiple ones, either in combination or occurring sequentially. Spring deposits can have a very wide range of internal facies and exhibit complex architectural variations. We propose the concept of large-scale spring deposits for explaining LTDs on Mars. Stable volcano-tectonic settings, such as the ones typical on Mars, are compatible with a large-scale, long-term, multistage formation of spring deposits. The large-scale spring deposit model can explain the formation of LTDs with a common process, although active in different times and locations, compatible with coeval local or regional processes and deposits, such as volcaniclastic ones. LTDs, if formed as spring deposits derived from subsurface fluids, could potentially offer favorable conditions both to life and to the fossilization of past life forms.
Published: 23 August 2008
We present a new set of observations of Martian aurorae obtained by Spectroscopy for the Investigation of the Characteristics of the Atmosphere of Mars (SPICAM) on board Mars Express (MEX). Using nadir viewing, several auroral events have been identified on the Martian nightside, all near regions of crustal magnetic fields. For most of these events, two to three consecutive events with variable intensities and separated by a few seconds to several tens of seconds have been observed, whereas simultaneous observations with Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding (MARSIS) and Analyzer of Space Plasma and Energetic Atoms (ASPERA-3) have been possible. In this paper, we present the data set for these events and discuss the possible correlation between the measured UV emission by SPICAM, the measured downward and/or upward flux of electrons by ASPERA-3 and the total electron content recorded by MARSIS. Despite the limited coverage of SPICAM ultraviolet spectrograph (UVS) on the Martian nightside (essentially in regions of high crustal magnetic fields), there is however a very good correlation between the regions with the locally smallest probability to be on closed crustal magnetic field lines, as derived from Mars Global Surveyor/Electron Reflectometer (MGS/MAG-ER), and the position of an aurora event. This suggests that the crustal magnetic fields, when organized into cusp-like structure, can trigger the few aurorae identified by SPICAM UVS. It confirms also the good probability, in the cases where SPICAM UVS measured UV emissions, that the increase in the measured total electron content by MARSIS and the simultaneous measured precipitating electron flux by the ASPERA-3/Electron Spectrometer may be related to each other.
Published: 23 August 2008
Phyllosilicates, a class of hydrous mineral first definitively identified on Mars by the OMEGA (Observatoire pour la Mineralogie, L'Eau, les Glaces et l'Activitié) instrument, preserve a record of the interaction of water with rocks on Mars. Global mapping showed that phyllosilicates are widespread but are apparently restricted to ancient terrains and a relatively narrow range of mineralogy (Fe/Mg and Al smectite clays). This was interpreted to indicate that phyllosilicate formation occurred during the Noachian (the earliest geological era of Mars), and that the conditions necessary for phyllosilicate formation (moderate to high pH and high water activity) were specific to surface environments during the earliest era of Mars's history. Here we report results from the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) of phyllosilicate-rich regions. We expand the diversity of phyllosilicate mineralogy with the identification of kaolinite, chlorite and illite or muscovite, and a new class of hydrated silicate (hydrated silica). We observe diverse Fe/Mg-OH phyllosilicates and find that smectites such as nontronite and saponite are the most common, but chlorites are also present in some locations. Stratigraphic relationships in the Nili Fossae region show olivine-rich materials overlying phyllosilicate-bearing units, indicating the cessation of aqueous alteration before emplacement of the olivine-bearing unit. Hundreds of detections of Fe/Mg phyllosilicate in rims, ejecta and central peaks of craters in the southern highland Noachian cratered terrain indicate excavation of altered crust from depth. We also find phyllosilicate in sedimentary deposits clearly laid by water. These results point to a rich diversity of Noachian environments conducive to habitability.
Published: 17 July 2008
We present analysis of a bright haze observed inside Valles Marineris, which formed in mid northern spring. The data were collected by the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) and the imaging spectrometer, Observatoire pour la Minéralogie, l'Eau, les Glaces et l'Activité (OMEGA), aboard Mars Express. This study provides a case example of the power of simultaneous multiple emission angle and hyperspectral imaging for study of aerosols and clouds in the Martian atmosphere. The haze appeared thinner after three days and disappeared in nine days. It was limited to a 2-km layer at the bottom of the canyon. The color was redder than the underlying surface. The analysis of the OMEGA spectra indicates that this haze was composed of dust particles. The dust layer appeared brighter with the HRSC stereo channels than the nadir channel due to longer scattering paths. We have estimated the optical depth of the haze by fitting both HRSC and OMEGA data with radiative transfer calculations. The retrieval of the optical depth is very sensitive to the aerosol scattering model used and the reflectance of the surface. Applying an aerosol scattering model derived from sky surveys at a constant elevation by the Imager for Mars Pathfinder, the optical depth of the haze is estimated from HRSC data to be within 1.7 to 2.3 at the wavelength of 0.675 micron. The wavelength dependence is obtained from OMEGA spectrum. It increases to 2.2-2.6 at lambda = 1.35 micron and moderately decreases to 1.2-1.8 at lambda = 2.4 micron.
Published: 09 February 2008
The equatorial Medusae Fossae Formation (MFF) is enigmatic and perhaps among the youngest geologic deposits on Mars. They are thought to be composed of volcanic ash, eolian sediments, or an ice-rich material analogous to polar layered deposits. The Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionospheric Sounding (MARSIS) instrument aboard the Mars Express Spacecraft has detected nadir echoes offset in time-delay from the surface return in orbits over MFF material. These echoes are interpreted to be from the subsurface interface between the MFF material and the underlying terrain. The delay time between the MFF surface and subsurface echoes is consistent with massive deposits emplaced on generally planar lowlands materials with a real dielectric constant of ~2.9 ± 0.4. The real dielectric constant and the estimated dielectric losses are consistent with a substantial component of water ice. However, an anomalously low-density, ice-poor material cannot be ruled out. If ice-rich, the MFF must have a higher percentage of dust and sand than polar layered deposits. The volume of water in an ice-rich MFF deposit would be comparable to that of the south polar layered deposits.
Published: 16 November 2007
Mars Express arrived at its destination in December 2003 to probe every facet of the Red Planet, from the interior to the ionosphere, in unprecedented detail. In addition to these global studies, the mission's unifying theme is the search for water in its various forms everywhere on the planet. The mission has been extended into 2009, and could last even longer.
Published: 15 November 2007
The ice-rich south polar layered deposits of Mars were probed with the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionospheric Sounding on the Mars Express orbiter. The radar signals penetrate deep into the deposits (more than 3.7 kilometers). For most of the area, a reflection is detected at a time delay that is consistent with an interface between the deposits and the substrate. The reflected power from this interface indicates minimal attenuation of the signal, suggesting a composition of nearly pure water ice. Maps were generated of the topography of the basal interface and the thickness of the layered deposits. A set of buried depressions is seen within 300 kilometers of the pole. The thickness map shows an asymmetric distribution of the deposits and regions of anomalous thickness. The total volume is estimated to be 1.6 × 106 cubic kilometers, which is equivalent to a global water layer approximately 11 meters thick.
Published: 15 March 2007
A hemispheric dichotomy on Mars is marked by the sharp contrast between the sparsely cratered northern lowland plains and the heavily cratered southern highlands. Mechanisms proposed to remove ancient crust or form younger lowland crust include one or more giant impacts, subcrustal transport by mantle convection, the generation of thinner crust by plate tectonics, and mantle overturn following solidification of an early magma ocean. The age of the northern lowland crust is a significant constraint on these models. The Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionospheric Sounding (MARSIS) instrument on the European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft is providing new constraints on the martian subsurface. Here we show evidence of buried impact basins ranging in diameter from about 130 km to 470 km found over 14 per cent of the northern lowlands. The number of detected buried basins >200 km in diameter indicates that the lowland crust is ancient, dating back to the Early Noachian epoch. This crater density is a lower limit because of the likelihood that not all buried basins in the area surveyed by MARSIS have been detected. An Early Noachian age for the lowland crust has been previously suggested on the basis of a large number of quasi-circular topographic depressions interpreted to be evidence of buried basins. Only a few of these depressions in the area surveyed by MARSIS, however, correlate with the detected subsurface echoes. On the basis of the MARSIS data, we conclude that the northern lowland crust is at least as old as the oldest exposed highland crust. This suggests that the crustal dichotomy formed early in the geologic evolution of Mars.
Published: 14 December 2006
On the 11 August 2004, the UV spectrograph Spectroscopy for Investigation of Characteristics of the Atmosphere of Mars (SPICAM) on board Mars Express made the first observation of auroral-type emission on the Martian nightside. In this paper, we describe the results of a new analysis of the observed emission owing to a better calibration of SPICAM UV channel and the use of all spectral information obtained during this observation. Several possibilities for the origin of this emission are discussed. We discussed, in particular, the possible exact geometry of the observation and the possible origins of the Martian aurorae. The emissions measured by SPICAM ultraviolet spectrometer have most probably been produced by electrons with an energy distribution peaking at few tens of eV rather than by electron distributions peaking above 100 eV.
Published: 23 September 2006
The martian polar caps are among the most dynamic regions on Mars, growing substantially in winter as a significant fraction of the atmosphere freezes out in the form of CO2 ice. Unusual dark spots, fans and blotches form as the south-polar seasonal CO2 ice cap retreats during spring and summer. Small radial channel networks are often associated with the location of spots once the ice disappears. The spots have been proposed to be simply bare, defrosted ground; the formation of the channels; has remained uncertain. Here we report infrared and visible observations that show that the spots and fans remain at CO2 ice temperatures well into summer, and must be granular materials that have been brought up to the surface of the ice, requiring a complex suite of processes to get them there. We propose that the seasonal ice cap forms an impermeable, translucent slab of CO2 ice that sublimates from the base, building up high-pressure gas beneath the slab. This gas levitates the ice, which eventually ruptures, producing high-velocity CO2 vents that erupt sand-sized grains in jets to form the spots and erode the channels. These processes are unlike any observed on Earth.
Published: 18 August 2006
The seasonal polar ice caps of Mars are composed mainly of CO2 ice. A region of low (< 30%) albedo has been observed within the south seasonal cap during early to mid-spring. The low temperature of this 'cryptic region' has been attributed to a clear slab of nearly pure CO2 ice, with the low albedo resulting from absorption by the underlying surface. Here we report near-infrared imaging spectroscopy of the south seasonal cap. The deep and broad CO2 absorption bands that are expected in the near-infrared with a thick transparent slab of CO2 ice are not observed. Models of the observed spectra indicate that the low albedo results from extensive dust contamination close to the surface of a CO2 ice layer, which could be linked to atmospheric circulation patterns. The strength of the CO2 absorption increases after mid-spring, so part of the dust is either carried away or buried more deeply in the ice layer during the CO2 ice sublimation process.
Published: 18 August 2006
Global mineralogical mapping of Mars by the Observatoire pour la Mineralogie, l'Eau, les Glaces et l'Activité (OMEGA) instrument on the European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft provides new information on Mars' geological and climatic history. Phyllosilicates formed by aqueous alteration very early in the planet's history (the "phyllocian" era) are found in the oldest terrains; sulfates were formed in a second era (the "theiikian" era) in an acidic environment. Beginning about 3.5 billion years ago, the last era (the "siderikian") is dominated by the formation of anhydrous ferric oxides in a slow superficial weathering, without liquid water playing a major role across the planet.
Published: 22 April 2006
Mars Express, launched in June 2003 and in orbit around Mars since December that year, has been continuing its investigations, painting a new picture of the 'Red Planet'. This includes the first-ever probing below the surface of Mars, new geological clues with implications for the climate, newly-discovered surface and atmospheric features and, above all, the presence of abundant water ice on this world.
Published: 15 February 2006
The recent identification of large deposits of sulphates by remote sensing and in situ observations has been considered evidence of the past presence of liquid water on Mars. Here we report the unambiguous detection of diverse phyllosilicates, a family of aqueous alteration products, on the basis of observations by the OMEGA imaging spectrometer on board the Mars Express spacecraft. These minerals are mainly associated with Noachian outcrops, which is consistent with an early active hydrological system, sustaining the long-term contact of igneous minerals with liquid water. We infer that the two main families of hydrated alteration products detected - phyllosilicates and sulphates - result from different formation processes. These occurred during two distinct climatic episodes: an early Noachian Mars, resulting in the formation of hydrated silicates, followed by a more acidic environment, in which sulphates formed.
Published: 01 December 2005
The daytime martian ionosphere has been observed as a two-layer structure with electron densities that peak at altitudes between about 110 and 130 kilometers. The Mars Express Orbiter Radio Science Experiment on the European Mars Express spacecraft observed, in 10 out of 120 electron density profiles, a third ionospheric layer at altitude ranges of 65 to 110 kilometers, where electron densities, on average, peaked at 0.8 x 1010 per cubic meter. Such a layer has been predicted to be permanent and continuous. Its origin has been attributed to ablation of meteors and charge exchange of magnesium and iron. Our observations imply that this layer is present sporadically and locally.
Published: 04 November 2005
In High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) images of the Mars Express Mission a 130 km long interior channel is identified within a 400 km long valley network system located in the Lybia Montes. Ages of the valley floor and the surroundings as derived from crater counts define a period of ~350 Myrs during which the valley might have been formed. Based on HRSC stereo measurements the discharge of the interior channel is estimated at ~4800 m³/s, corresponding to a runoff production rate of ~1 cm/day. Mass balances indicate erosion rates of a few cm/year implying the erosion activity in the valley to a few thousand years for continuous flow, or one or more orders of magnitude longer time spans for more intermittent flows. Therefore, during the Hesperian, relatively brief but recurring episodes of erosion intervals are more likely than sustained flow.
Published: 17 August 2005
In the high-latitude regions of Earth, aurorae are the often spectacular visual manifestation of the interaction between electrically charged particles (electrons, protons or ions) with the neutral upper atmosphere, as they precipitate along magnetic field lines. More generally, auroral emissions in planetary atmospheres "are those that result from the impact of particles other than photoelectrons". Auroral activity has been found on all four giant planets possessing a magnetic field as well as on Venus, which has no magnetic field. On the nightside of Venus, atomic O emissions at 130.4nm and 135.6nm appear in bright patches of varying sizes and intensities, which are believed to be produced by electrons with energy < 300 eV. Here we report the discovery of an aurora in the martian atmosphere, using the ultraviolet spectrometer SPICAM on board Mars Express. It corresponds to a distinct type of aurora not seen before in the Solar System: it is unlike aurorae at Earth and the giant planets, which lie at the foot of the intrinsic magnetic field lines near the magnetic poles, and unlike venusian auroras, which are diffuse, sometimes spreading over the entire disk. Instead, the martian aurora is a highly concentrated and localized emission controlled by magnetic field anomalies in the martian crust.
Published: 10 June 2005
In the high-latitude regions of Earth, aurorae are the often-spectacular visual manifestation of the interaction between electrically charged particles (electrons, protons or ions) with the neutral upper atmosphere, as they precipitate along magnetic field lines. More generally, auroral emissions in planetary atmospheres "are those that result from the impact of particles other than photoelectrons". Auroral activity has been found on all four giant planets possessing a magnetic field (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune), as well as on Venus, which has no magnetic field. On the nightside of Venus, atomic O emissions at 130.4nm and 135.6nm appear in bright patches of varying sizes and intensities, which are believed to be produced by electrons with energy <300eV. Here we report the discovery of an aurora in the martian atmosphere, using the ultraviolet spectrometer SPICAM on board Mars Express. It corresponds to a distinct type of aurora not seen before in the Solar System: it is unlike aurorae at Earth and the giant planets, which lie at the foot of the intrinsic magnetic field lines near the magnetic poles, and unlike venusian auroras, which are diffuse, sometimes spreading over the entire disk. Instead, the martian aurora is a highly concentrated and localized emission controlled by magnetic field anomalies in the martian crust.
Published: 10 June 2005
— 20 Items per Page