NASA is, obviously, not the only space agency in the world. Nor are they the only agency doing really cool work at Mars. The European Space Agency is currently operating the Mars Express, in orbit around the Red Planet, and the produce of that mission is absolutely astounding.
The latest update from the Mars Express team focuses on Amenthes Planum:
ESA’s Mars Express took a high-resolution stereo image on 13 January of the southeast corner of the Amenthes Planum region on Mars, near to Palos crater and the mouth of a well-known sinuous valley, Tinto Vallis.
At the bottom-centre of the full-colour image … is a nearby shorter and wider valley, which is fed by a number of tributaries before it joins the mouth of Tinto Vallis as both empty into Palos crater, just off the bottom of the image.
The 190 km-long Tinto Vallis is seen in the context image and is named after the famous Rio Tinto river in the Andalucía region of Spain. It is believed to have formed around 3.7 billion years ago, during the early history of Mars.
The network of shorter valleys shown in the first perspective image is thought to have formed through volcanic activity melting subsurface ice and liberating water to the martian surface via seeps and springs.
The colour coding emphasises the superposed craters on the large 100 km-wide crater to the left (south) of the image. Also more clearly seen are the various mesa and buttes within the larger 100 km crater. At the bottom of the image is a small river valley that feeds into Palos crater, which may once have hosted a lake.
ESA notes that the crater at the left-hand side of the image is thirty-five kilometers across, and “sits on top of at least three older craters, the largest of which is 100 km”. The floor of this larger crater is “with flat-topped geological features called mesas, and their smaller siblings, buttes, littering the floor”, another potential indicator of a watery Martian history. “On Earth,” ESA continues, “the desert regions in Utah are home to many examples of these types of formation.”
Mars Express offers a nearly unbelievable perspective of the Red Planet, and with missions planned for 2016 and 2018, the European Space Agency is poised to bring dramatic results for the next decade, at least.