The Case of the Martian Boulder Piles
NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
The Case of the Martian Boulder Piles
ESP_053924_2550  Science Theme: Seasonal Processes
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This image was originally meant to track the movement of sand dunes near the North Pole of Mars, but what's on the ground in between the dunes is just as interesting!

The ground has parallel dark and light stripes from upper left to lower right in this area. In the dark stripes, we see piles of boulders at regular intervals.

What organized these boulders into neatly-spaced piles? In the Arctic back on Earth, rocks can be organized by a process called “frost heave.” With frost heave, repeatedly freezing and thawing of the ground can bring rocks to the surface and organize them into piles, stripes, or even circles. On Earth, one of these temperature cycles takes a year, but on Mars it might be connected to changes in the planet’s orbit around the Sun that take much longer.

Written by: Shane Byrne (audio: Tre Gibbs)  (5 March 2018)

This is a stereo pair with ESP_053937_2550.
 
Acquisition date
27 January 2018

Local Mars time:
14:44

Latitude (centered)
74.944°

Longitude (East)
279.338°

Spacecraft altitude
319.6 km (199.7 miles)

Original image scale range
32.0 cm/pixel (with 1 x 1 binning) so objects ~96 cm across are resolved

Map projected scale
25 cm/pixel

Map projection
Polarstereographic

Emission angle:
7.1°

Phase angle:
52.0°

Solar incidence angle
58°, with the Sun about 32° above the horizon

Solar longitude
120.9°, Northern Summer

For non-map projected images
North azimuth:  99°
Sub-solar azimuth:  324.0°
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Black & white is 5 km across; enhanced color about 1 km
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USAGE POLICY
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/JPL/University of Arizona

POSTSCRIPT
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.