EU-Russia orbiter captures picture of Mars surface etched by dust devils — Analysis

The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter – a joint project by the European Space Agency (ESA) and Russia’s Roscosmos – has captured an image of Mars’ southern highlands, with an intricate pattern made of windswept knobs, conical mounds, and ridges.

Although the ESA shared this picture via Twitter Friday, it was taken in fact on February 1, 2021.

According to the agency’s website, the image offers a rare glimpse of Mars’ landscape near Hooke Crater in the southern highlands.

The cream-colored Martian expanse is riddled with depressions alternating with mounds, as well as countless wrinkles – a type of landscape defined by scientists as similar to the “Chaos terrain” seen elsewhere on Mars.

The most striking feature of the image is, however, the multitudes of blue tendrils that stretch across the landscape. They converge to create lumps in some areas. ESA describes the strange pattern as being created by dust devils. Over the years, these whirlwinds of dust have left marks on the planet’s surface, with an apparent north-south orientation “This indicates a potential local wind pattern” the ESA claims.  

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The blue wisps would appear blue if they were seen from space, however. The color is the “This image is the result of the combination of three filters.” according to the scientists. The purpose of the filters is to “Produce a color-infrared image that is more sensitive to surface mineralogy variations.

2018 was the year that ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter started its mission. Apart from sending back pictures like this one, the orbiter is also said to be “providing the best ever inventory of the planet’s atmospheric gases,” as well as “mapping the planet’s surface for water-rich locations.

The international team of scientists behind the project is also planning to send a rover to probe Mars’ surface in August-October this year. At first, the launch was supposed to be in 2020. But parachute testing caused delays.

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