A Planet of Superlatives
Hellas, Olympus Mons, and Valles Marineris

A Short Ride in a Fast Machine -- A Virtual Tour of Valles Marineris
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When Hollywood takes us to other planets, we travel in ships of imagination. But when NASA travels to Mars, the postcards from real spacecraft are written in scientific data. As shown in the following visualization, NASA 's style isn 't lacking for flair. These images are derived from precise measurements taken by the Mars Orbital Laser Altimeter (MOLA). As depicted here, the viewer travels at a relative altitude of roughly 100 kilometers above the surface, flying east to west over Valles Marineris. Running more than 4000 kilometers, Valles Marineris is the longest valley network in the solar system and remains an area of intense interest for those who study Mars. As it wraps around a vast stretch of the planet 's center, it appears to drain from the Tharsis and Chryse highlands directly into the northern lowland regions.
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A Bowl Big Enough for Mt. Everest - The Hellas Impact Basins

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The Southern Hemisphere is generally higher in relative elevation than the North with one glaring exception: the Hellas Impact Basin. This enormous hole in the Red Planet is believed to be the result of a violent collision by an interstellar body with the surface of Mars billions of years ago. And it is enormous: Hellas is more than nine kilometers deep and at 2100 kilometers across, it could swallow almost half of the United States. Crater ejecta stretches out from the center of the bowl more than 4000 kilometers from the center of the basin, with a ring of blast material lining the bowl as high as 2 kilometers.

The Grandest Peak in the Solar System - Olympus Mons

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It 's a mountain so large that a stroll up its side would hardly cause much of a vertical sensation. But at more than two and a half times the height of Mt. Everest, Olympus Mons is indisputably the king of the solar system 's peaks. With no ocean on Mars, there obviously isn 't a sea level for measuring relative altitudes. Instead, Mars researchers base elevation measurements on a planetary mean. At the 25-kilometer high summit, one would easily see the curvature of Mars. In fact, the mountain rises so far above the mean surface that it actually leaves all but 5% of the Martian atmosphere behind. The cratered caldera caps a mountain bulge that stretches almost 550 kilometers east to west, covering an area roughly the size of Arizona. Just a few hundred kilometers from Olympus Mons three other gigantic volcanoes dot the high country known as the Tharsis Bulge. What Mars lacks in total size is more than compensated by the extremes of its peaks.
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Magnetic Field Oscillations

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Mars does not show the same kind of magnetic field as Earth. But evidence collected by the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) indicates that the planet may have had a global magnetic field, generated by an internal geological dynamo. Evidence suggest that the planet's magnetic field reversed direction, or flipped, several times throughout Martian history as mantle and core conditions changed. As that dynamo faded, driven by volcanic activity or meteor collisions or other processes, the crust froze with faint traces of its magnetic past locked into its structure. As captured by the MGS magnetometer and electron reflectometer, those traces appear in invisible, but faintly detectable bands, which magnetically point in opposite directions, not unlike the magnetic patterns seen in the crust of the Earth's ocean floors.
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The Mars Global Surveyor

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In the post-Viking lander era, The Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) continues to provide exciting and vital information about Earth 's neighbor in the post Viking era. By collecting information about the planet 's topography, composition, atmosphere, and more, MGS is enabling scientists to build a comprehensive model of Mars in order to understand it better. NASA contractor Lockheed Martin built the Mars Global Surveyor at their facility in Denver. Fully loaded with fuel, the tiny probe weighed only 1060 kilograms (2,342 pounds) on November 7, 1996 when a Delta-7925 rocket launched it to Mars.
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Some Basic Facts about Mars

  • Ave. Distance from Sun: 227,940,000 km (1.52 AU)
  • Diameter: 6,794 km
  • Rotational Period (one day): 24.622 hours
  • Mean Surface Temp: -63=BA C
  • Orbital Period (one year): 686.98 days
  • Moons: 2 (Phobos and Demios)
  • Gravity: 38% Earth


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Both the northern and southern ice caps vary in size as seasons change on Mars. The permanent northern cap is believed to be made mostly of frozen water while the southern cap is believed to be made of frozen carbon dioxide and water. Shown here the northern ice cap extends over a sizeable portion of the planet's pole, rippling and folding as ice and snow merge together. It's non-seasonally affected size is several times greater than its southern counterpart.
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Read more about MOLA
For further information, check out the following web sites about ongoing Mars research: This multimedia project is the work of a dedicated team of researchers, animators, and media specialists. A companion video to this web site is available from NASA-TV. Below are a list of agencies, departments, and researchers who provided expertise and data for this production:

Please give credit for these images to:
NASA - Goddard Space Flight Center
Scientific Visualization Studio
Television Production NASA-TV/GSFC
The MOLA Instrument and Science Team

Content Preparation and Project Production: Michael Starobin

Last Revised: February 4, 2019 at 06:02 PM EST