A Window into the Past
A Window into the Past
ESP_051841_1750  Science Theme: Sedimentary/Layering Processes
The layered sedimentary deposits inside the giant canyons of Mars have puzzled scientists for decades. These light toned deposits have fine, horizontal laminations that are unlike the rugged rim rock of the Valles Marineris.

Various ideas for the origin of the layered sediments have suggested lake deposits, wind blown dust and sand, or volcanic materials that erupted after the canyon was formed, and possibly filled with water.

One particular layered deposit, called Ceti Mensa, attracted attention because its deep red color in images collected by the Viking Orbiter mission during the 1970s. Located in west Candor Chasma in the north of the Valles Marineris, Ceti Mensa is an undulating plateau that rises 3 kilometers above the canyon floor and is bounded by steep scarps up to 1.5 kilometers in height. Deep red hues are on the west-facing scarp in particular. The red tint may be due to the presence of crystalline ferric oxide, suggesting that the material may have been exposed to heat or water, or both.

Spectral measurements by the Mars Express OMEGA and MRO CRISM instruments confirm the presence of hydrated sulfate salts, such as gypsum and kieserite . These minerals are important for two reasons. On Earth, they typically form in wet environments, suggesting that the deposits in Ceti Mensa may have formed under water. On Mars, these deposits could be valuable to future Martian colonists as fertilizer for growing crops.

In a view of the colorful west-facing scarp of Ceti Mensa, we see the interior layers of the deposit, giving us a window into the past history of the sediments as they accumulated over time. We also see layers that were previously too small to view, and a surface that is thoroughly fractured, eroded into knobs, and partially covered by young dark sand dunes.

Written by: Paul Geissler (audio: Tre Gibbs)  (23 October 2017)

This is a stereo pair with ESP_051986_1750.
Acquisition date
17 August 2017

Local Mars time

Latitude (centered)

Longitude (East)

Spacecraft altitude
265.5 km (165.0 miles)

Original image scale range
26.7 cm/pixel (with 1 x 1 binning) so objects ~80 cm across are resolved

Map projected scale
25 cm/pixel and North is up

Map projection

Emission angle

Phase angle

Solar incidence angle
47°, with the Sun about 43° above the horizon

Solar longitude
48.8°, Northern Spring

For non-map projected images
North azimuth:  97°
Sub-solar azimuth:  38.3°
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Merged IRB
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map-projected   (761MB)

IRB color
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Black and white
map-projected  (404MB)
non-map           (391MB)

IRB color
map projected  (147MB)
non-map           (364MB)

Merged IRB
map projected  (193MB)

Merged RGB
map-projected  (188MB)

RGB color
non map           (354MB)
Map-projected, reduced-resolution
Full resolution JP2 download
Anaglyph details page

DTM details page


B&W label
Color label
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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.