Reading the Rock Record at Nili Fossae
Reading the Rock Record at Nili Fossae
PSP_010206_1975  Science Theme: Geologic Contacts/Stratigraphy
This image captures a record of changing environments on ancient Mars, as recorded in the rock record at Nili Fossae.

Part of our image shows a rock type known as megabreccia, composed of numerous differently colored blocks, each up to 40 meters across, arranged in a seemingly disorganized array. Megabreccia forms when an energetic event, such as formation of an impact crater, breaks up pre-existing rocks and jumbles their fragments. Megabreccia is found in some of the most ancient rocks exposed on the Martian surface.

Elsewhere in the image are layered rocks, which have been shown by the orbiting spectrometers OMEGA and CRISM to contain clay minerals. These minerals must have formed in the presence of water, and may have later been transported and deposited here in sedimentary layers. Most of the layers appear to overlie the exposures of megabreccia, but some megabreccia blocks are themselves internally layered, suggesting that sedimentary processes were active here early in Martian history.

Above the clay-bearing layers is a dark, rough-textured rock unit that was emplaced later. Geologic mapping of the Nili Fossae region has shown this deposit to be a lava flow from the Syrtis Major volcano to the south. The minerals detected in the lava flow suggest that liquid water had become rare on the Martian surface by the time the flow occurred.

Written by: James Wray  (19 November 2008)

This is a stereo pair with PSP_010628_1975.
Acquisition date
29 September 2008

Local Mars time

Latitude (centered)

Longitude (East)

Spacecraft altitude
279.5 km (173.7 miles)

Original image scale range
28.0 cm/pixel (with 1 x 1 binning) so objects ~84 cm across are resolved

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25 cm/pixel and North is up

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Solar incidence angle
51°, with the Sun about 39° above the horizon

Solar longitude
134.4°, Northern Summer

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North azimuth:  97°
Sub-solar azimuth:  14.5°
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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.