ESA’s Mars Express has returned images of mist-capped volcanoes located in the northern hemisphere of the red planet. Long after volcanic activity ceased, the area was transformed by meteor impacts that deposited ejected material over the lower flanks of the volcanoes.
Permanent and transient features are on display in this newly released image of Mars. The image is derived from data acquired during three orbits of ESA’s Mars Express between 25 November 2004 and 22 June 2006. In that time, these dead volcanoes were not expected to change but, during the middle orbit, Mars Express captured icy clouds drifting past the summit of Ceraunius Tholus.
By the time Mars Express crossed again and took the final strip of data needed for this image, the clouds had long since dispersed and so there is a sharp line across them in the finished mosaic. The Latin word “tholus” means a conical dome and the base of Ceraunius Tholus is 130 km across, while the peak rises 5.5 km above the surrounding plains. At its summit is a large caldera 25 km across. With similar morphology to its neighbour and lying 60 km to the north, Uranius Tholus is a smaller volcano, with a base diameter of 62 km and a height of 4.5 km.
The flanks of Ceraunius Tholus are relatively steep, at about 8° inclination, and are etched with valleys. They are deeply cut in many places, suggesting that soft and easily eroded material, such as layers of ash, were deposited during the volcano’s eruptions. The largest and deepest of these valleys is about 3.5 km wide and 300 m deep. It terminates inside an otherwise unrelated elongated impact crater that happens to lie between the two volcanoes, and has created a fascinating fan shape of deposits.