Since 2006, the observation satellite Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has been charting Mars’s terrain with its HiRISE telescope. In the process, it has produced a series of stunning images that reveal the planet’s beautiful landscape.
Compiled in the forthcoming book This is Mars by editor Xavier Barral, these images—each spanning a width of 3.7 miles—show the complexities of the legendary planet, from the astonishing depths of its canyons to its ice-covered poles and sweeping black dunes. All photographs courtesy of NASA/JPL/University of Arizona.
Defrosting the Crests of Inca City. Deemed "Inca City" due to its rectangular shapes, these terrains stretch several kilometers and are located on the southern pole of Mars. In the spring, defrosting creates dark patches that grow as temperatures climb.
Traces of Sand Whirlwinds. Powerful sand whirlwinds can cover large portions of the planet, sometimes flowing linearly and sometimes spiraling in less-direct trajectories, as shown here.
Crater Having Impaced the Strata of the Plateau Mawrth Vallis. Strata lining this crater are composed of clay minerals formed by the transformation of liquid water from primary minerals. This discovery testifies to Mars’s ancient, humid past.
Region of the Polar South, Deep Incision in the Polar Sedimentary Strata. The fractures in these sedimentary strata resulted from strong, seasonal thermal variations that can reach up to 100 degrees Celsius.
Harmakhis Vallis, Part of Which is from a Glacier Flow. Mars’s polar zones are dominated by glaciers. This glacier flows from the lower-left part of the image, with fractures or crevasses forming in perpendicular directions.
Region of the Polar South, Sedimentary Strata Formed in Spring and at the End of Summer. The dark patches shown here are fractures in the carbonic ice, a result of a process that creates geysers beneath the ice.
Field of Dunes in the Proctor Crater. Hundreds of black-sand dunes have accumulated on the floor of this crater. In the winter, ice covers these dunes, creating a stark contrasting tone.
Polar Region of the North, Barkhanes. The sun lights these barkhanes (sweeping sand dunes), which can move and re-form with strong winds.
Vallis Granicus. Muddy outflows from a nearby volcano created this labyrinth of canyons. Mars’s active volcanoes are thought to account for the presence of liquid water in a climate that remains very cold.
Region of the Polar South. Carbonic ice in the polar south has been eroded, leaving small cliffs that resemble arabesques.