Columnar Jointing on Mars and Earth
NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Columnar Jointing on Mars and Earth
ESP_029286_1885  Science Theme: Volcanic Processes
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HiRISE first discovered columnar jointing on Mars in 2009 (Milazzo et al. 2009). This jointing is an exciting discovery because it forms when molten lava is cooled quickly by liquid water resulting in columns of polygonal-shaped rock. Finding evidence like this for large amounts of liquid water on Mars is important for understanding the planet's climate history and habitability.

This image shows columnar jointing at a new site, previously unreported. These distinctly jointed layers are located on the northern wall of an 18-kilometer (approximately 10 miles) crater inside Isidis Planitia.

During a recent field trip near Moscow, Idaho, HiRISE scientists visited a site with similar columnar jointing. The sizes of the columns are only slightly different (the columns in the HiRISE image are a few yards across, while the ones we saw on Earth are only a few feet across). Smaller columns may also be present at this site, but they would be below even HiRISE's ability to resolve. The columns on Mars most likely formed in the same way as the columns we see on the Earth.

If you look at the enhanced color version, you can almost imagine those people walking along the base of that cliff, studying the geology of Mars in person.

Written by: Ingrid Daubar   (5 December 2012)

This is a stereo pair with ESP_030143_1885.

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Acquisition date:25 October 2012 Local Mars time: 3:37 PM
Latitude (centered):8.600° Longitude (East):95.547°
Range to target site:276.4 km (172.8 miles)Original image scale range:27.7 cm/pixel (with 1 x 1 binning) so objects ~83 cm across are resolved
Map projected scale:25 cm/pixel and North is upMap projection:Equirectangular
Emission angle:3.8° Phase angle:52.4°
Solar incidence angle:56°, with the Sun about 34° above the horizon Solar longitude:194.9°, Northern Autumn
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North azimuth:97° Sub-solar azimuth:351.7°
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North azimuth:270°Sub solar azimuth:166.5°

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For information about NASA and agency programs on the Web, visit: http://www.nasa.gov. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Lockheed Martin Space Systems is the prime contractor for the project and built the spacecraft. The HiRISE camera was built by Ball Aerospace and Technology Corporation and is operated by the University of Arizona. The image data were processed using the U.S. Geological Survey’s ISIS3 software.