Alluvial Fans in Mojave Crater: Did It Rain on Mars?
Alluvial Fans in Mojave Crater: Did It Rain on Mars?
PSP_001415_1875  Science Theme: Landscape Evolution
Aptly-named Mojave Crater in the Xanthe Terra region has alluvial fans that look remarkably similar to landforms in the Mojave Desert of southeastern California and portions of Nevada and Arizona.

Alluvial fans are fan-shaped deposits of water-transported material (alluvium). They typically form at the base of hills or mountains where there is a marked break, or flattening of slope.

They typically deposit big rocks near their mouths (close to the mountains) and smaller rocks at greater distances. Alluvial fans form as a result of heavy desert downpours, typically thundershowers. Because deserts are poorly vegetated, heavy and short-lived downpours create a great deal of erosion and nearby deposition.

There are fans inside and around the outsides of Mojave crater on Mars that perfectly match the morphology of alluvial fans on Earth, with the exception of a few small impact craters dotting this Martian landscape.

Channels begin at the apex of topographic ridges, consistent with precipitation as the source of water, rather than groundwater. This remarkable landscape was first discovered from Mars Orbital Camera images. Mars researchers have suggested that impact-induced atmospheric precipitation may have created these unique landscapes.

This HiRISE image at up to 29 cm/pixel scale supports the alluvial fan interpretation, in particular by showing that the sizes of the largest rocks decrease away from the mouths of the fans.

Written by: Alfred McEwen  (13 December 2006)
Acquisition date
14 November 2006

Local Mars time

Latitude (centered)

Longitude (East)

Spacecraft altitude
273.5 km (170.0 miles)

Original image scale range
from 27.4 cm/pixel (with 1 x 1 binning) to 109.5 cm/pixel (with 4 x 4 binning)

Map projected scale
25 cm/pixel and North is up

Map projection

Emission angle

Phase angle

Solar incidence angle
52°, with the Sun about 38° above the horizon

Solar longitude
135.4°, Northern Summer

For non-map projected images
North azimuth:  97°
Sub-solar azimuth:  21.9°
Black and white
map projected  non-map

IRB color
map projected  non-map

Merged IRB
map projected

Merged RGB
map projected

RGB color
non-map projected

Black and white
map-projected   (340MB)

IRB color
map-projected   (277MB)

Black and white
map-projected  (153MB)
non-map           (134MB)

IRB color
map projected  (70MB)
non-map           (217MB)

Merged IRB
map projected  (99MB)

Merged RGB
map-projected  (101MB)

RGB color
non map           (215MB)
B&W label
Color label
Merged IRB label
Merged RGB label
EDR products

IRB: infrared-red-blue
RGB: red-green-blue
About color products (PDF)

Black & white is 5 km across; enhanced color about 1 km
For scale, use JPEG/JP2 black & white map-projected images

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’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.