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Getting to know Mars


When I turned the first telescopes of my boyhood towards Mars, all I could see was a blurry red disc with indistinct dark patches. Even the best pictures of the day taken with the 200 inch mirror at Mount Palomar showed only polar caps and vague markings. We imagined they might be vegetation, but disappointment came in 1965 when Mariner 4 sent back photos of a cratered, lunar-like surface. More recently the Mars rovers and orbiters have shown an alien, changing world.


Wired, which publishes a ‘Science Photo of the Day,’ has passed on a NASA high resolution picture of cratered dunes (top) with Aeolian sandstone lying over a previously-eroded surface of layered sedimentary rock. The bottom picture shows “an isolated flat-topped mountain (known as a mesa) rising out of a sea of dunes located in the center of Hydrae Chasma.” We are told that “some of the detail may be the sediment remnants of ancient lakes formed within these canyon systems.” I find the detail of these images enthralling. We have come a long way since my first backyard telescope.


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