Stunning new pictures of Mars show half-mile wide crater complete with sand dunes

Saturday, August 15, 2009

It is one of the most dramatic images to ever emerge from Mars.

In fact, this extraordinary photograph is so clear that even the sand dunes at the base of the half-mile wide canyon are visible.

Experts even believe that they can see the tracks of a Mars lander on the left-hand corner of the Victoria Crater.

The image, taken by Nasa, shows in vivid detail the canyon which has lain undisturbed for somewhere between 10million and 100million years.

Its peaceful history was only broken when a Nasa rover landed in 2006 and explored the area until August last year, leaving behind its trademark tracks.

The space organisation's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter beaned down this stunning shot of the 800-metre-wide crater.

The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera, which took the camera, has been a useful aide in Mars exploration.

Its images helped the Mars Opportunity rover navigate around the edge of the crater, and even take cover when winds kicked up a dust-storm in 2007.

Although the image looks like a 'top-down' shot, it was actually taken at an angle more akin to a passenger looking out of a plane window, allowing NASA to see more of the steep walls of the crater.

Another image from the HiRISE captures a 'dust devil' leaving a trail and casting a shadow.

The whirlwinds form as the ground heats up during the daytime, which warms the air immediately above the surface.

The hot layer of air rises and the cooler air above falls, and a horizontal gust of wind causes the air and any dust to rotate.

Early estimates pin Victoria Crater at somewhere between 10 million and 100 million years old, but the rocks within the depression themselves are likely much older - as in a few billion years in age, researchers said.


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