Oxia Palus quadrangle

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Mars topography (MOLA dataset) HiRes (1).jpg
MC-11 Oxia Palus 0–30° N 0–45° W Quadrangles Atlas

Article written by Jim Secosky. Jim is a retired science teacher who has used the Hubble Space Telescope, the Mars Global Surveyor, and HiRISE

Location and Name

The Oxia Palus quadrangle is one of a series of 30 quadrangle maps of Mars. It is also called Mars Chart-11 (MC-11).[1] The quadrangle covers the region of 0° to 45° west longitude (360-315 E) and 0° to 30° north latitude on Mars.[2] For information on names and locations on Mars go to https://planetarynames.wr.usgs.gov/Page/MARS/targets It is named for a Lake--actually a swamp into which Oxus River flows; i.e. Sea of Aral), and its name was approved in 1958.[3] This quadrangle covers parts of many regions: Chryse Planitia, Arabia Terra, Xanthe Terra, Margaritifer Terra, Meridiani Planum and Oxia Planum.

Past and Future Landings

There is much interesting geology in this region. Mars Pathfinder landed in Ares Vallis, Chryse Planitia in the Oxia Palus quadrangle at 19.13 N 33.22 W (326.78 E), on July 4, 1997.[4] [5]

Launched on a Delta II rocket on December 4, 1996. The Mars Pathfinder mission was used to demonstrate that NASA could send an exploratory mission to Mars for 1/15th of the cost of the Viking budget in the 1970's. The mission was developed at a cost of under $150 million in 3 years. One of the major mission objectives was to deliver a microrover safely to the surface in order to study the surface composition. The microrover onboard was known as Sojourner. Rocks and soil were probed with an Alpha Proton X-ray Spectrometer (APXS).[6] Sojourner was powered with solar panels and a non-rechargeable battery, which greatly limited night activities. When the batteries were depleted, it could not work at night.[7] Its lithium-thionyl chloride (LiSOCl2) batteries only generated 150 watt-hours.[8] The Mars Pathfinder Mission lasted from December 1996 to March 1998. Pathfinder carried out more than 15 chemical analyses of rocks and soil, besides collecting data on the weather. Information learned through the mission suggest that, in its past, Mars was warm and wet, with liquid water on its surface and a thicker atmosphere. Depletion of the spacecraft's battery along with a drop in the spacecraft's operating temperature was believed to be why we lost communications with Pathfinder in October 1997. The mission far surpassed its expected 30-day lifetime.[9]

Pathfinder was surrounded by giant air bags for its landing. It bounced at least 15 times and up to 12 meters high before it came to rest.[10]
Sojourner rover taking an Alpha Proton X-ray Spectrometer measurement of the rock Yogi. In all the rover traveled 52 meters.[11]

View from Mars Pathfinder

                                                    View from Mars Pathfinder

After several meetings of top scientists, it was decided that EXoMars 2020 will land in the Oxia Palus quadrangle at 18.14 N and 335.76 E. This site is of interest because of a long-duration aqueous system including a delta, possible biosignatures, and a variety of clays.[12] [13] [14] The mission for a couple of reasons has been postponed until 2022. The ExoMars programme will place a European rover and a Russian surface platform to the Martian surface.[15] A Russian Proton rocket will launch the craft. ExoMars rover will roam across Mars to search for signs of life. Using a drill, it will collect samples and look for organic chemicals that may be markers of past life. The drill can obtain samples from a depth of 2 meters where life forms would be protected from radiation.[16]

Another site, Mawrth Vallis, in this region was strongly considered as a landing site for NASA's Curiosity Mars Rover, which was in the end sent to Gale Crater.[17] [18] [19][20] The Mawrth Vallis region is well studied with more than 40 papers published in peer-reviewed publications. Near the Mawrth channel is a 200 meter high plateau with many exposed layers. Spectral studies have detected clay minerals that present as a sequence of layers.[21] [22] [23] [24] [25] [26] [27] [28] [29] Clay minerals detected in Mawrth were probably deposited in the Early to Middle Noachian period. Later weathering exposed a variety of minerals such as kaolin, alunite, and jarosite. Later, volcanic material covered the region. This volcanic material would have protected any possible organic materials from radiation.[30] Scientists would like to examine places where clays have been detected since clays need water and a neutral pH to form. Clays are markers for where life exists or may have existed.

Major Features

The major landscape features of the Oxia Palus quadrangle are Aram Chaos, Ares Vallis, Mawrth Vallis, Shalbatana Vallis, and several prominent craters (Danielson, Firsoff, and Crommelin). Some features found here are very common on Mars, but rare—if they exist at all—on the Earth. Chaos and linear ridge networks are in this category. As on Earth, this region of Mars displays channels, layered terrain, and faults[31] This article aims to describe the major features of this quadrangle. When you finish reading it, you will know what it looks like from orbit and from the surface. Some HiRISE images may even show how it looks from the altitude of an airplane or a helicopter.

Layers in Dannielson Crater, as seen by HiRISE under HiWish program

Layers in Dannielson Crater, as seen by HiRISE under HiWish program Black box shows how big a football field would be.

Possible Lakes

Research, published in 2010, suggests that Mars had lakes, each around 20 km wide, along parts of the equator, in the Oxia Palus quadrangle. Although earlier research showed that Mars had a warm and wet early history that has long since dried up, these lakes existed in the Hesperian Epoch, a much earlier period. Using detailed images from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the researchers speculate that there may have been increased volcanic activity, meteorite impacts, or shifts in Mars' orbit during this period to warm Mars' atmosphere enough to melt the abundant ice present in the ground. Volcanoes would have released gases that thickened the atmosphere for a temporary period, trapping more sunlight and making it warm enough for liquid water to exist. In this new study, channels were discovered that connected lake basins near Ares Vallis. When one lake filled up, its waters overflowed the banks and carved the channels to a lower area where another lake formed.[32] These lakes would be another place to look for evidence of present or past life.

This quadrangle contains abundant evidence for past water in such forms as river valleys, lakes, springs, and chaos areas where water flowed out of the ground. A variety of clay minerals have been found in Oxia Palus. That's good news for scientists because clay is formed in water, and it is good for preserving microscopic evidence of ancient life.[33]

Recently, scientists have found strong evidence for a lake located in the Oxia Palus quadrangle that received drainage from Shalbatana Vallis. The study, carried out with HiRISE images, indicates that water formed a 30-mile-long canyon that opened up into a valley, deposited sediment, and created a delta. This delta and others around the basin imply the existence of a large, long-lived lake. Of special interest is evidence that the lake formed after the warm, wet period was thought to have ended. So, lakes may have been around much longer than previously thought.[34] [35] In October 2015, Oxia Planum, a plain located near 18.275 N and 335.368 E was announced as the preferred landing site for the EXoMARS rover.[36] [37]

Layered sediments

Oxia Palus is an interesting area with many craters showing layered sediments.[38] Such sediments may have been deposited by water, wind, or volcanoes. The thickness of the layers is different in different craters. In Becquerel many layers are about 4 meters thick. In Crommelin crater the layers average 20 meters in thickness. At times, the top layer may be resistant to erosion and will form a feature called a Mesa, the Latin word for table.[39]

One explanation put forth for the formation of at least some of the layers involves the changeable climate on Mars. The tilt of the Earth's axis changes by only a little more than 2 degrees. In contrast, Mars's tilt varies by tens of degrees. Today, the tilt (or obliquity) of Mars is low, so the poles are the coldest places on the planet, while the equator is the warmest. This causes gases in the atmosphere, like water and carbon dioxide, to migrate poleward, where they turn into ice. When the obliquity is higher, the poles receive more sunlight, and ices move away. Dry ice (carbon dioxide ice) turns into a gas thus raising atmospheric pressure. A thicker atmosphere may have more powerful winds capable of transporting and depositing more sand. Also, with more water in the atmosphere, sand grains deposited on the surface may more readily stick and cement together to form layers. [40] A detailed discussion of layering with many Martian examples can be found in Sedimentary Geology of Mars.[41]

Layers in Oxia Palus quadrangle
Wide view of layers in a depression near Shalbatana Vallis, as seen by HiRISE under HiWish program
Close view of layers in a depression near Shalbatana Vallis from previous image


Image of the Oxia Palus Quadrangle (MC-11). The region contains heavily cratered highlands in the southeast which are intersected by several large outflow channels terminating in the relatively smooth plains of Chryse basin in the northwest.
                                              Image with significant craters and other features labeled

There are many large impact craters in this region. Several are named in honor of famous scientists. Besides Galileo Galilei and DaVinci, some of the names of people who discovered the atom and radiation have been used for crater names such as Marie Curie, Henri Becquerel, and Ernest Rutherford.[42]

Yuty Crater showing lobe and rampart morphology; it looks like mud was formed during the impact.

Impact craters generally have rims with ejecta around them; in contrast volcanic craters usually do not have a rim or ejecta deposits. As impact craters get larger (greater than 10 km in diameter), they usually have a central peak.[43] The peak is caused by a rebound of the crater floor after the impact.[44] Sometimes craters display layers in their walls or in deposits on their floors. Since the collision that produces a crater is like a powerful explosion, rocks from deep underground are tossed onto the surface. Hence, craters can show what lies deep under the surface. The area around craters is a worthwhile place to gather rock samples.

Close-up of layers in central mound of Curie Crater, as seen by HiRISE Layers may have formed in a lake.
Dunes on floor of Rutherford Crater, as seen by CTX camera (on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter). Note: this is an enlargement of a previous image.

Close view of layers, as seen by HiRISE under HiWish program Location is Danielson Crater.

Mojave crater

Alluvial Fans in Mojave, as seen by HiRISE.

The crater Mojave, in the Xanthe Terra region, has alluvial fans that look remarkably similar to landforms in the Mojave Desert in the American southwest. As on Earth, the largest rocks are near the mouths of the fans. As the mixture of debris and water move downslope, the largest rocks are dropped first. Because channels start at the tops of ridges, it is believed they were formed by heavy downpours. Researchers have suggested that the rain may have been initiated by impacts.[45] Mojave is approximately 1.618 miles (2,604 meters) deep. Its depth relative to its diameter and its ray system indicate it is very young. Crater counts of its ejecta blanket give an age of about 3 million years. It is considered the most recent crater of its size on Mars, and has been identified as the probable source of the shergottite meteorites collected on Earth. [46] Shergottite is the name of one of serveal classes of meteorites that we now know came from Mars. They were blasted off the surface by large impacts at low angles.

Firsoff Crater

MOLA map showing Firsoff Crater and other nearby craters. Colors indicate elevations.

MOLA map showing Firsoff Crater and other nearby craters. Colors indicate elevations. For more information on names and locations on mars go to https://planetarynames.wr.usgs.gov/Page/MARS/target

Layers in Firsoff crater with a box showing the size of a football field Picture taken by HiRISE under HiWish program.
Close view of layers in Firsoff Crater, as seen by HiRISE under HiWish program Arrows point to hard cap rock.

Faults in layers in Firsoff Crater Arrows point to faults.

Crommelin Crater

Crommelin Crater showing layers arranged in ovals as seen by ctx

Crommelin Crater showing layers arranged in ovals as seen by CTX

Faults in layers in Crommelin Crater Arrow points to a fault.
Close view of faults and layers in Crommelin Crater Arrow points to a fault.

Danielson Crater

Layers on the floor of Danielson Crater taken under the HiWish program Layers on the floor of Danielson Crater taken under the HiWish program

Layers on the floor of Danielson Crater taken under the HiWish program Box shows size of a football field.

    Layers on the floor of Danielson Crater taken under the HiWish program  Box shows size of a football field.

Wide view of layers in Danielson Crater Picture was taken by HiRISE under HiWish program.

Wide view of layers in Danielson Crater Picture was taken by HiRISE under HiWish program.

Wide view of layers in East side of Dannielson Crater
Layers and dust devil tracks in Dannielson Crater, as seen by HiRISE under HiWish program

Layers on the floor of Danielson Crater taken under the HiWish program Arrow indicates area of a fault.

Color image of layers on the floor of Danielson Crater taken under the HiWish program
Color image of layers on the floor of Danielson Crater taken under the HiWish program


'Vallis (plural valles) is the Latin word for valley. It is used in planetary geology for the naming of river-like features on other planets. Vallis was used for old river valleys that were discovered on Mars, when probes were first sent to Mars. In the 1970's, the Viking Orbiters caused a revolution in our conception of water on Mars; huge river valleys were found in many areas. As the years of study of Mars have gone on spacecraft cameras showed that floods of water broke through dams, carved deep valleys, eroded grooves into bedrock, and traveled thousands of kilometers.[47] [48] [49].[50] [51] [52] [53] [54] [55]

Teardrop-shaped islands shaped by flowing water The islands are formed in the ejecta of Lod Crater, Bok Crater, and Gold Crater.

Ares Vallis, as seen by Viking. The channel is 25 km wide and about 1 km deep.


Vernal Crater, as seen by CTX camera (on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter)

Springs in Vernal Crater, as seen by HIRISE

A study of images taken with the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter strongly suggests that hot springs once existed in Vernal Crater, in the Oxia Palus quadrangle. These springs may have provided a long-time location for life. Furthermore, mineral deposits associated with these springs may have preserved traces of Martian life. In Vernal Crater on a dark part of the floor, there are two light-toned, elliptical structures that closely resemble hot springs on the Earth. They have inner and outer halos, with roughly circular depressions. A large number of hills are lined up close to the springs. These are thought to have formed by the movement of fluids along the boundaries of dipping beds. A picture to the right shows these springs. One of the depressions is visible. The discovery of opaline silica by the Mars Rovers, on the surface also suggests the presence of hot springs. Opaline silica is often deposited in hot springs.[56] This site was one of many proposed by scientists to be visited by the Mars Science Laboratory that eventually landed in Gale Crater. [57]

Linear ridge networks

Linear ridge networks are found in various places on Mars in and around craters.[58] Ridges often appear as mostly straight segments that intersect in a lattice-like manner. They are hundreds of meters long, tens of meters high, and several meters wide. One popular idea for the origin of linear ridges is that impacts created fractures in the surface, these fractures later acted as channels for fluids. Fluids cemented the structures. With the passage of time, surrounding material was eroded away, thereby leaving hard ridges behind. However, researches are still debating the exact nature of this networks. Since the ridges occur in locations with clay, these formations could serve as a marker for clay which requires water for its formation.[59] [60] Water here could have supported past life in these locations. Clay may also preserve fossils or other traces of past life.

Ridge networks of various sizes, as seen by HiRISE under HiWish program

Ridge networks, as seen by HiRISE

Outflow channels and chaos

Layered mesas in Hydaspis Chaos

Layered mesas in Hydaspis Chaos to the right

Many large, ancient river valleys are found in this area; along with collapsed features, called Chaos. The Chaotic features may have collapsed when water came out of the surface. Large, Martian rivers often begin with a Chaos region. A chaotic region can be recognized by a jumble of mesas, buttes, and hills, chopped through with valleys which in places look almost patterned. Some parts of this chaotic area have not collapsed completely—they are still formed into large mesas, so they may still contain water ice.[61]

Chaotic terrain occurs in numerous locations on Mars, and always gives the strong impression that something abruptly disturbed the ground. Chaos regions formed long ago. By counting craters (more craters in any given area means an older surface) and by studying the valleys' relations with other geological features, scientists have concluded the channels in Oxia Palus formed 2.0 to 3.8 billion years ago.[62]

One generally accepted understanding for the formation of large outflow channels is that they were formed by catastrophic floods of water released from giant groundwater reservoirs. Maybe, the water began to come out of the ground because of faulting or volcanic activity. Sometimes hot magma just travels under the surface. If that is the case, the ground will be heated, but there may be no evidence of lava on the surface. After water escapes, the surface collapses. Moving across the surface, the water would have simultaneously frozen and evaporated. Chunks of ice that would have quickly formed may have enhanced the erosive power of the flood. Furthermore, the water may have frozen over at the surface, but continuing to flow underneath, eroding the ground as it moved along. Rivers in cold climates on the Earth often become ice-covered, but continue to flow. Such catastrophic floods have occurred on Earth. One commonly cited example is the Channeled Scabland of Washington State; it was formed by the breakout of water from the Pleistocene Lake Missoula, that resembles a Martian outflow channels.[63] Water that originated from chaos regions may have ultimately flowed in a downstream direction to end up in a northern ocean that may have covered one third of the planet. [64] [65] [66] [67]

Where did all the water get there? Today, we generally believe that much of the water of early Mars formed a frozen ice layer (called a cryosphere). As the water froze to the bottom, the layer became thicker and pressurized a layer of water beneath in an aquifer. Perhaps after an asteroid impact cracked the cryosphere, catastrophic floods came out of chaos regions and carved great outflow channels that carried the water to a northern ocean. [68] [69] [70] [71]

Water poured out of the ground here at the depression called Aromatum Chaos and carved the channel Ravi Vallis.
Layered mesas in Hydraotes Chaos

Part of the scene may have formed with the aid of water.

Hydaspis Chaos

Chaos along Shalbatana Vallis as seen by HiRISE

Aram Chaos

Aram Chaos is an ancient impact crater about 170 miles (280 km) across, near the Martian equator, close to Ares Vallis. There is much evidence that water was here in the past. Aram lies in a region called Margaritifer Terra, where many water-carved channels show that floods poured out of the highlands onto the northern lowlands ages ago. The Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) on the Mars Odyssey orbiter found gray crystalline hematite on Aram’s floor. Hematite, an iron-oxide mineral, can precipitate when ground water circulates through iron-rich rocks. The floor of Aram contains huge blocks of collapsed, or chaotic, terrain that formed when water or ice was catastrophically removed. Elsewhere on Mars, the release of groundwater produced massive floods that eroded the large channels seen in Ares Vallis and other outflow valleys. In Aram Chaos, however, the released water stayed mostly within the crater's ramparts, eroding only a small, shallow outlet channel in the eastern wall. The presence of certain minerals, including hematite, sulfate minerals, and water-altered silicates, in Aram suggests that a lake probably once existed within the crater. Since the formation of hematite needs liquid water, which could not long exist without a thick atmosphere, the existence of hematite there suggests that Mars must have had a much thicker atmosphere at some time in the past.[72]

Hanging valleys in Aram Chaos Years ago, when Mars had much liquid water, this hanging valley would have been a waterfall.

Other landscapes in Oxia Palus quadrangle

Eos Chasma with a Mensa, a flat topped prominence with cliff-like edges, as seen by THEMIS. In many places rock layers are visible.
Cap rock breaking up into large blocks, as seen by HiRISE under HiWish program

Possible dikes and layered structures Dikes are caused by magma moving under the ground along weak places in the rock. Dikes may carry useful minerals for future colonists. These may be part of linear ridge networks that are produced with impact craters.
Light toned rocks surrounded by dark material along wall of a crater, as seen by HiRISE under HiWish program

The Martian

The excellent, fairly realistic movie, The Martian, was set in this quadrangle.[73] Matt Damon played a astronaut who was stranded on Mars.[74] He survived by growing potatoes. One major flaw in the movie was the damage caused by the wind. While Mars does have wind and major dust storms, since the air is so thin, it would not cause all the damage that was depicted in the movie. Its atmosphere is only about 1 % as dense as the Earth's. Hence, a wind speed of a 60-mph storm on Mars would feel more like 6 mph (9.6 km/hr).[75] Still, the movie was quite accurate.[76] The Martian was nominated for 7 Oscars.[77]

The route taken on Mars from the movie “The Martian”

                  The route taken on Mars from the movie “The Martian”

This map shows the route that ‘The Martian’, Mark Watney, travelled on Mars. Before he was able to leave his location at Chryse Planitia for the safety of Ares 4 in Schiaparelli Crater, he had to set up a radio transmitter that he obtained at the landing site of the first Mars rover, Soujourner, which arrived on the Red Planet in 1997 as part of the Mars Pathfinder mission. Sojourner was located a few hundred kilometers to the south of Chryse Planitia. His journey continued to the mouth of Mawrth Vallis, which he drove up and gained about 2000 meters in altitude. Following this, Watney drove an additional 2500 meters uphill through the rough Meridiani Planum, which is littered with craters, to the rim of the 450-kilometre diameter Schiaparelli Crater. On the northwestern rim of the crater, a landslide has created a natural ramp that Watney used to access the crater floor, some 700 meters below, where the Ares-4 rocket was 'parked'.[78] [79]


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See Also

Recommended reading

  • Grotzinger, J., R. Milliken (eds.). 2012. Sedimentary Geology of Mars. Tulsa: Society for Sedimentary Geology.
  • Kieffer, H., et al. (eds) 1992. Mars. The University of Arizona Press. Tucson

External links