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See ridged ‘brain terrain’ crater captured by Mars Express

The Mars Express orbiter has captured a series of images showing a stunning view of impact craters in the Utopia Planitia region of Mars. The European Space Agency (ESA) orbiter took the images of the craters which sit in the huge Utopia basin which has a diameter of over 2,000 miles.

This image from ESA’s Mars Express shows Utopia Planitia, a plain that fills one of three major basins in the northern hemisphere of Mars – Utopia – and has a diameter of 3,300 km.
This image from ESA’s Mars Express shows Utopia Planitia, a plain that fills one of three major basins in the northern hemisphere of Mars – Utopia – and has a diameter of 3,300 km. ESA/DLR/FU Berlin

The plain in this basin, called Utopia Planitia, is of particular interest as it has abundant ice both on its surface and just below its surface. The crater on the bottom left shows an unusual texture called “brain terrain,” named such because it looks like the ridges of the human brain.

“Brain terrain is associated with the icy material found near the boundary between Mars’ northern plains and its southern highlands, a ‘dichotomy’ located to the south/south-west (upper left) of this scene,” ESA writes.

“Just to the right of the brain-textured crater is an especially dark-coloured region, created as the ice-rich ground contracted and cracked at low temperatures. This formed polygonal patterns and fractures that subsequently captured dark dust blown across Mars by wind, leading to the dark appearance seen here.”

This oblique perspective view of Utopia Planitia on Mars was generated from the digital terrain model and the nadir and colour channels of the High Resolution Stereo Camera on ESA’s Mars Express.
This oblique perspective view of Utopia Planitia on Mars was generated from the digital terrain model and the nadir and color channels of the High Resolution Stereo Camera on ESA’s Mars Express. ESA/DLR/FU Berlin

Another view of Utopia Planitia was captured as well, showing the craters from a different angle.  The two images were captured using Mars Express’s high-resolution camera for taking images of the planet’s surface, the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC). They are true color images, meaning they show the view of the surface as it would be seen by the human eye.

The Mars Express orbiter has previously captured many other notable features on Mars’s surface, including the famous Korolev crater which is 51 miles wide and full of ice, and the Moreux crater which does not have ice now but does have dunes and other structures formed by ice activity in the past. Identifying ice deposits is an important step in making water available on Mars, which is key for future crewed missions there.

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