See the strange and beautifully layered terrain of Mars’ Juventae Chasma

While life is rapidly changing all over the globe right now, the rest of the solar system is going about business as usual. And that includes our planetary neighbor Mars, where NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has captured a particularly stunning image of the strange ridges and channels formed on the planet’s surface by erosion.

This area of Mars is called the Juventae Chasma, a huge canyon that stretches over 150 miles wide and which is named after the mythical fountain of youth. On the floor of the canyon, you’ll find sand dunes and a mountain of sulfate deposits which is one and a half miles high. This region has many areas of striking layers, in which different sediments have been deposited on top of one another and eroded to form elaborate patterns that can be seen from orbit.

This image shows plains North of the Southwestern Juventae Chasma, a canyon part of the gigantic Valles Marineris system.
This image shows plains North of the Southwestern Juventae Chasma, a canyon part of the gigantic Valles Marineris system. NASA/JPL/UArizona

You can see a large, high-resolution version of the image here to appreciate all the beautiful details of this literally unearthly scene.

“There are three distinct terrains in this image, plains with possible inverted channels, plains with exposed layers, and layers on a wall of Juventae Chasma,” the HiRISE researchers explained in a post. “Layers are common in the Martian canyons, but it is unknown what process formed them. The layers in the plains here are likely made of the same material as the layer in the canyons.”

This particular image was captured with an instrument called the High-resolution Imaging Experiment (HiRISE) camera on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The MRO has been an essential NASA tool for observing Mars since it entered orbit around the planet in 2006. As well as cameras, the MRO also carries scientific instruments including spectrometers and radar, which can be used in combination to study the geography and weather of Mars.

HiRISE has captured plenty of stunning images of Mars in its career, including snapping photos of both of NASA’s explorers, Curiosity and InSight, on the surface of the planet. But perhaps its most famous finding was something even more out of this world, when last year it captured an image of a martian lava formation that looked strikingly like the Star Trek logo.

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