Spaceflight Now: Breaking News

Probe finds sedimentary rock in unlikely place on Mars
Posted: February 16, 2001

Although most of the best examples of layered sedimentary rock seen on Mars are found at equatorial and sub-tropical latitudes, a few locations seen at mid- and high-latitudes suggest that layered rocks are probably more common than we can actually see from orbit.

An overview of Spallanzani Crater. Credit: NASA/JPL/MSSS.

One extremely good example of these "atypical" layered rock exposures is found in the 72 km-diameter (45 miles) crater, Spallanzani (58.4 deg S, 273.5 deg W). Located southeast of Hellas Planitia, the crater is named for the 18th Century Italian biologist, Lazzaro Spallanzani (1729-1799). The above picture presents a composite of the best Viking orbiter image (VO2-504B55) of the region with 4 pictures obtained June 1999 through January 2001 by the Mars Global Surveyor Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC). Each MOC narrow angle image is 3 km across.

Layers in Spallanzani. Credit: NASA/JPL/MSSS.

Taken in the MOC's "survey mode," all four images were acquired at roughly 12 meters (39 ft) per pixel. This second picture zooms-in on the portion of the composite image that includes the 4 MOC images (the 100%-size view is 20 m (66 ft) per pixel). Other craters in the region near Spallanzani show features -- at Viking Orbiter scale -- that are reminiscent of the layering seen in Spallanzani. Exactly what these layers are made of and how they came to be where we see them today are mysteries, but it is possible that they are similar to the materials seen in the many craters and chasms of the equatorial latitudes on Mars.

Malin Space Science Systems and the California Institute of Technology built the MOC using spare hardware from the Mars Observer mission. MSSS operates the camera from its facilities in San Diego, CA. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Mars Surveyor Operations Project operates the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft with its industrial partner, Lockheed Martin Astronautics, from facilities in Pasadena, CA and Denver, CO.