Skip to main content

European Space Agency’s Trace Gas Orbiter snaps a volcanic trench on Mars

A new image of the surface of Mars captured by a European and Russian orbiter shows a stunning overhead view of deep trenches in the surface of the planet created by activity from nearby volcanoes.

Mars is host to Olympus Mons, the largest volcano in the solar system, and volcanic activity has played a key part in the evolution of the planet. It’s not clear whether there is still volcanic activity going on there today, but there definitely was at some point in its past. You can see evidence of the volcanism in the lava flows and lava planes that are found on its surface, as well as many volcanoes like Olympus Mons.

 This image of the young volcanic region of Elysium Planitia on Mars shows two blue parallel trenches called Cerberus Fossae.
This image of the young volcanic region of Elysium Planitia on Mars [10.3°N, 159.5°E] was taken on 14 April 2021 by the CaSSIS camera on the ESA-Roscosmos ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO). The two blue parallel trenches in this image, called Cerberus Fossae, were thought to have formed by tectonic processes. They run for almost one thousand km over the volcanic region. In this image, CaSSIS is looking straight down into one of these 2 km-wide fissures. ESA/Roscosmos/CaSSIS
Another feature in the Martian landscape left by volcanic activity is deep trenches like the Cerberus Fossae trenches recently imaged by the CaSSIS camera on the European Space Agency and Roscosmos’s Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO). This pair of trenches, located in the volcanic Elysium Planitia region, was likely formed by tectonic activity related to volcanism.

This is a false-color image, meaning that its colors have been processed to show the depth of the trenches in dark blue. The trenches are more than a mile wide and run for around 600 miles across the region. Taken from directly overhead, this image is looking down into the several hundred-meter-deep trenches.

“The floor here is a few hundred meters deep and is filled with coarse-grained sand, likely basaltic in composition, which appears blue in the CaSSIS false-color composite image,” ESA writes. “The flat volcanic plains nearby are punctured by small impact craters, which expose possibly the same basaltic materials that we see within Cerberus Fossae.”

Editors' Recommendations

Georgina Torbet
Georgina is the Digital Trends space writer, covering human space exploration, planetary science, and cosmology. She…
A Chinese orbiter has mapped the entire surface of Mars
tianwen 1 orbiter mapping qcvcmep8cv2mncghhqvpup 970 80 jpg

The Chinese Tianwen-1 orbiter has completed imaging the entire surface of Mars, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) announced this week. The orbiter, which traveled to Mars along with the rover Zhurong, arrived at Mars in February 2021 and has been collecting images of the planet's surface as part of a global survey.

During its time on the red planet, the Tianwen-1 orbiter made 1,344 passes around the planet and made observations with scientific instruments including cameras, magnetometers, spectrometers, and a radar instrument. The orbiter has been in operation for 706 days, and during that time, the CNSA says it imaged the whole surface with its medium-resolution camera.

Read more
This giant map of minerals on Mars is a piece of modern art
Seen are six views of the Nili Fossae region of Mars captured by the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars, or CRISM, one of the instruments aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

The rainbow-hued images might look like some kind of digital art, but in fact, they are maps of Mars, taken using the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars, or CRISM, an instrument on board NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).
This spacecraft has been in orbit around Mars since 2006, taking images of the planet using its cameras such as HiRISE and also gathering spectrometer and radar data. CRISM is a spectrometer, meaning it splits light into different wavelengths to see what an object is made of. Different colors in the different maps below represent particular minerals on the Martian surface, allowing researchers to look at the planet's geology from orbit.

Seen are six views of the Nili Fossae region of Mars captured by the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars, or CRISM, one of the instruments aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. NASA/JPL-Caltech/JHU-APL

Read more
NASA’s Mars orbiter MAVEN saved in a ‘race against time’
Illustration of the MAVEN spacecraft in orbit around Mars.

NASA's MAVEN spacecraft, a Mars orbiter that is now almost a decade old, is back up and running following a scare that saw it put into safe mode for several months. The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN craft resumed science operation on May 28, 2022, NASA recently announced, after recovering from the issue.

The problem began in February 2022, when an issue with the spacecraft's navigation system meant it could no longer determine its orientation. The team lost contact with the spacecraft on February 22, while it was performing routine operations on its Inertial Measurement Units (IMUs). There are two IMUs on board the spacecraft, one primary and one backup. These devices use gyroscopes and accelerometers to measure the movements of the spacecraft as part of the navigation system. Both IMUs stopped working, so while the spacecraft could boot up and operate its other instruments, it could not determine its position in space.

Read more