The Niagara Falls of Mars
The Niagara Falls of Mars
ESP_050406_1585  Science Theme: Volcanic Processes
Various researchers are often pre-occupied with the quest for flowing water on Mars. However, in this image, we see one of many examples from Mars where lava (when it was molten) behaved in a similar fashion to liquid water.

In a 3D image from the Context Camera, we can see the northern rim of a 30-kilometer diameter crater situated in the western part of the Tharsis volcanic province. (See our own 3D image as well.) The image shows that a lava flow coming from the north-northeast surrounded the crater rim, and rose to such levels that it breached the crater rim at four locations to produce spectacular multi-level lava falls (one in the northwest and three in the north). These lava “falls” cascaded down the wall and terraces of the crater to produce a quasi-circular flow deposit. It seems that the flows were insufficient to fill or even cover the pre-existing deposits of the crater floor. This is evidenced by the darker-toned lavas that overlie the older, and possibly dustier, lighter-toned deposits on the crater floor.

Our image covers the three falls in the north-central region of the crater wall. The lava flows and falls are distinct as they are rougher than the original features that are smooth and knobby. In a close-up image the rough-textured lava flow to the north has breached the crater wall at a narrow point, where it then cascades downwards, fanning out and draping the steeper slopes of the wall in the process.

Now, if you’re thinking such as scene can only be observed on another planet, here’s a beautiful snapshot of lava falls from the 1969 Mauna Ulu eruption in Hawaii.

Written by: Eric Pilles and Livio L. Tornabene  (26 June 2017)

This is a stereo pair with ESP_050472_1585.
Acquisition date
28 April 2017

Local Mars time

Latitude (centered)

Longitude (East)

Spacecraft altitude
254.8 km (158.3 miles)

Original image scale range
54.5 cm/pixel (with 2 x 2 binning) so objects ~164 cm across are resolved

Map projected scale
50 cm/pixel and North is up

Map projection

Emission angle

Phase angle

Solar incidence angle
37°, with the Sun about 53° above the horizon

Solar longitude
356.3°, Northern Winter

For non-map projected images
North azimuth:  96°
Sub-solar azimuth:  35.9°
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Black & white is 5 km across; enhanced color about 1 km
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All of the images produced by HiRISE and accessible on this site are within the public domain: there are no restrictions on their usage by anyone in the public, including news or science organizations. We do ask for a credit line where possible:
NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

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. The HiRISE camera was built by Ball Aerospace and Technology Corporation and is operated by the University of Arizona.