Quantcast
Tantalus Fossae
205 of 501

Tantalus Fossae

October 8, 2009
Tantalus Fossae is a set of long valleys on the eastern side of Alba Patera. These valleys are referred to as grabens and are formed by extension of the crust and faulting. When large amounts of pressure or tension are applied to rocks on timescales that are fast enough that the rock cannot respond by deforming, the rock breaks along faults. In the case of a graben, two parallel faults are formed by extension of the crust and the rock in between the faults drops downward into the space created by the extension. Numerous sets of grabens are visible in this THEMIS image, trending from north-northeast to south-southwest. Because the faults defining the graben are formed parallel to the direction of the applied stress, we know that extensional forces were pulling the crust apart in the west-northwest/east-southeast direction. The large number of grabens around Alba Patera is generally believed to be the result of extensional forces associated with the uplift of Alba Patera. Also visible in this image are a series of linearly aligned pits, called a pit chain. The pits are not the result of impact cratering, but are similar to sinkholes on Earth. Sinkholes are typically formed by the removal of rock (commonly limestone) underground by groundwater -- when enough rock is removed, the overlying rock becomes too heavy to be supported, and it collapses, forming a pit. Unlike sinkholes, however, the pit chains near Alba Patera were likely formed when empty underground lava tubes collapsed, accounting for the presence and alignment of many pits. Numerous channel features are also observed in the image, and follow the local topographic slope, which is downhill to the east- southeast. One of these, a long channel in the center of the image, nicely demonstrates the complex relations possible between geologic features. The geologist's rule of superposition says that a feature on top of (superposing) another feature, or cutting across another feature is younger than the feature it covers or cuts. In one location, the channel cuts across the somewhat subdued fault defining a graben (near the right side of the image), indi- cating that the channel was carved after the graben was formed. But in other places (near the center of the image), the channel is clearly cut by a large fault defining one of the grabens, indicating that some faulting was occurring after the channel was carved. These relationships can be observed throughout this image. By mapping out superposition relationships in detail, geologists can establish a complex sequence of events that occurred long ago.


comments powered by Disqus