Probe spots newly formed streaks on Martian slopes
Posted: May 29, 2001

Now in its Extended Mission, Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) is into its second Mars year of systematic observations of the red planet. With the Extended Mission slated to run through April 2002, the Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) is being used, among other things, to look for changes that have occurred in the past martian year. Because Mars is farther from the Sun than Earth, its year is longer -- about 687 Earth days.

Mars Orbiter Camera on Mars Global Surveyor sees new dark slope streaks in Lycus Sucli. Photo: NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems
The two pictures shown here cover the same portion of Lycus Sulci, a rugged, ridged terrain north of the giant Olympus Mons volcano. The interval between the pictures span 92% of a martian year (August 2, 1999 to April 27, 2001). Dark streaks considered to result from the avalanching of dry, fine, bright dust are seen in both images.

The disruption of the surface by the avalanching materials is thought to cause them to appear darker than their surroundings, just as the 1997 bouncing of Mars Pathfinder's airbags and the tire tracks made by the Sojourner rover left darkened markings indicating where the martian soil had been disrupted and disturbed. The arrows in the April 2001 picture indicate eight new streaks that formed on these slopes in Lycus Sulci since August 1999. These observations suggest that a new streak forms approximately once per martian year per kilometer (about 0.62 miles) along a slope.

In both images, north is toward the top/upper right and sunlight illuminates each from the left. Dark (as well bright) slope streaks are most common in the dust-covered martian regions of Tharsis, Arabia, and Elysium.

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.