The European Space Agency (ESA) has released a stunning photograph of the surface of Mars, demonstrating how winds sculpt the landscape. The Hooke Crater area in the Red Planet’s southern highlands is shown in this image taken from orbit by ESA and Roscosmos’ ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO). The artificial hues are due to filters used by TGO’s CaSSIS camera, which looks at the surface mineralogy in infrared wavelength to capture more details. On Mars, where the thin atmosphere, powerful winds, and vast amounts of dust combine to form spectacular features on the surface, this unusual-looking terrain is commonplace.
ESA shared the image on Instagram and titled the post, “The devil’s definitely in the detail.” In the caption, ESA mentioned, “Chaotic mounds, wind-sculpted ripples and dust devil tracks: this image shows a fascinating landscape near Hooke Crater in Mars’ southern highlands.”
The ESA then goes on to mention that this type of view is akin to a chaotic terrain, which is a form of broken, disrupted topography seen across Mars, where haphazard clusters of variously sized rocks — shared like irregular knobs, conical mounds, ridges, and flat-topped hills known as mesas — are found together, frequently trapped within depressions.
“Perhaps the most striking feature here is the wispy, snaking tendrils stretching out across the frame,” stated ESA in the caption, and added that dust devils — whirlwinds of dust that occur on both Mars and Earth when warm air rises fast into cooler air — were responsible for these traces of past activity. As they passed over dusty regions, these “devils leave tracks on a planet’s surface.” The traces appear to be oriented north-south, indicating a likely local wind pattern.
Three filters were combined to create this image and give the dust devil tracks a bluish hue. Though it’s not typical of what an observer would perceive with the naked eye, these filters yield a colour infrared image with higher sensitivity to differences in surface mineralogy.
The ESA adds that while this small patch has not been classified as one of the 30 locations of chaotic terrain recognised on Mars, its appearance is unmistakably chaotic.