How Did the Mound in Gale Crater Form?
NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
How Did the Mound in Gale Crater Form?
ESP_030880_1750  Science Theme: Sedimentary/Layering Processes
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Scientists have been wondering about the origin of the central mound in Gale Crater since before Curiosity landed nearby. One hypothesis was that a lake of liquid water once filled the crater, and the layers in the mound formed as sediment settled down through the water to the bottom of the lake.

Other hypotheses involved dust or volcanic ash that fell through the air to form layers. In either case, the layers could have later eroded away at the edges to form a central mound.

HiRISE took many images with the goal of figuring out this mystery. Now, a new paper by Edwin Kite of Caltech claims that the layers were formed by wind action, not liquid water.

Kite and the coauthors used HiRISE stereo to make digital elevation models, then measured the dip angle of the layers at the edges of the mound. The layers are tilted outward, not flat and horizontal across the mound. Their model shows how wind alone could have formed layers at the same angles they see in the Gale mound, so there didn't have to be a lake in Gale Crater.

Curiosity will be able to test this model. If wind alone formed this mound, Curiosity might not find much evidence for water-related processes there.

See also: Growth and form of the mound in Gale Crater, Mars: Slope wind enhanced erosion and transport. Geology, May 2013, v. 41, p. 543-546. Kite, Edwin S., Kevin W. Lewis, Michael P. Lamb, Claire E. Newman and Mark I. Richardson.

Written by: Ingrid Daubar   (22 May 2013)

This is a stereo pair with ESP_030102_1750.

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Acquisition date
26 February 2013

Local Mars time:
14:47

Latitude (centered)
-5.035°

Longitude (East)
137.503°

Range to target site
269.8 km (168.7 miles)

Original image scale range
27.0 cm/pixel (with 1 x 1 binning) so objects ~81 cm across are resolved

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25 cm/pixel and North is up

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Emission angle:
9.2°

Phase angle:
36.6°

Solar incidence angle
45°, with the Sun about 45° above the horizon

Solar longitude
272.1°, Northern Winter

North azimuth:
97°

Sub-solar azimuth:
334.2°
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Postscript
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.