Frosted Gully Slopes in Shadows
Frosted Gully Slopes in Shadows
ESP_044327_1375  Science Theme: Mass Wasting Processes
At first glance, this image looks like a mistake because the gullies of interest are entirely hidden in a large shadow filling most of the crater. At this latitude, gullies preferentially form on pole-facing slopes, but these slopes are in shadow during northern spring and summer.

This image was acquired just after the northern winter solstice, when Southern hemisphere shadows are longest. However, the fine dust in the Martian atmosphere scatters light into the shadows, and HiRISE has the sensitivity to acquire useful images within shadows.

The bluish areas are covered by seasonal carbon dioxide frost. In fact, this frost is key to forming the gullies. A good deal of carbon dioxide condenses in the shallow subsurface, and when it warms up in the late winter, it produces pressurized gas. When this gas escapes it fluidizes loose rocky materials on these steep slopes forming debris flows.

Initially this was considered a type of secondary activity, but we now realize that this activity can fully explain the formation of the fresh-looking gullies on Mars. The HiRISE team monitors sites such as this through the winter to better understand the actively-forming gullies.

Written by: Alfred McEwen (audio: Tre Gibbs)  (24 February 2016)
Acquisition date
10 January 2016

Local Mars time

Latitude (centered)

Longitude (East)

Spacecraft altitude
249.5 km (155.1 miles)

Original image scale range
50.2 cm/pixel (with 2 x 2 binning) so objects ~151 cm across are resolved

Map projected scale
50 cm/pixel and North is up

Map projection

Emission angle

Phase angle

Solar incidence angle
81°, with the Sun about 9° above the horizon

Solar longitude
93.2°, Northern Summer

For non-map projected images
North azimuth:  96°
Sub-solar azimuth:  52.7°
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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’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.