Concentric Structures in Meridiani Planum
Concentric Structures in Meridiani Planum
ESP_019360_1780  Science Theme: Hydrothermal Processes
This image shows a number of unusual, quasi-circular structures from 300 to 600 meters in diameter that apparently formed within bright flows in Meridiani Planum. The strange structures were observed earlier in MOC image E12-01295. They are located near the equator, about 300 kilometers to the west of the MER rover Opportunity.

New details can be seen in the HiRISE image that yield clues to the origin of these mysterious features. The dark rings seen within the concentric structures appear rougher than their surroundings. The bright material in which they formed is densely fractured, suggesting that it is quite brittle. Several small impact craters found within the bright unit produced sprays of dark ejecta, suggesting that the bright surface layer may be only a few meters thick. A compositional and morphological boundary separates the contorted central region of the unit from the smooth margins.

A full interpretation awaits detailed analysis, but these observations suggest that the lobate bright unit may have been produced by an ancient flow of water-saturated fluvial sediments. The circular structures within the flow could have formed by desiccation, as the sediments dried out and contracted, similar to mud cracks but on a much larger scale. Or they may have formed by a process of diapirism, if a solid crust formed on the surface of the drying sediments that was denser than the water-saturated slurry below. On Earth, slurries of sand and water that are pressurized by the weight of the overburden can rise to the surface to form “injectites,” eruptions of sand and water that can reach heights of hundreds of meters. Whether they were formed by desiccation or injection, these unusual features record a unique moment in the distant past of Mars.

Written by: Paul Geissler and Chris Okubo  (27 October 2010)
Acquisition date
13 September 2010

Local Mars time

Latitude (centered)

Longitude (East)

Spacecraft altitude
268.6 km (167.0 miles)

Original image scale range
26.9 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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55°, with the Sun about 35° above the horizon

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147.5°, Northern Summer

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Sub-solar azimuth:  23.2°
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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.