October 8, 2009
This ancient sinuous river channel was likely carved by water early in Mars history. Auqakuh Valles cuts through a remarkable series of rock layers that were deposited and then subsequently eroded. This change from conditions favoring deposition to those favoring erosion indicates that the environment of this region has changed significantly over time. In addition, the different rock layers seen in this image vary in hardness, with some being relatively soft and easily eroded, whereas others are harder and resistant. These differences imply that these layers vary in their composition, physical properties, and/or degree of cementation, and again suggest that major changes have occurred during the history of this region. Similar differences occur throughout the southwest U.S., where hard rock layers, such as the limestones and sandstones in the Grand Canyon, form resistant cliffs, whereas softer mudstones are easily eroded to form broad slopes. The Martian layers, such as the smooth, dark-toned mesas visible in numerous places to the right (east) of the channel, were once continuous across the region. As these layers have eroded, they have produced a wide array of textures, from smooth surfaces, to knobby terrains, to the unusual lobate patterns seen in the upper right of the image. The most recent activity in the region appears to be the formation of mega-ripples (a type of sand dune) by the wind. These ripples, spaced approximately 75 m apart, form perpendicular to the wind direction, and can be seen following the pattern of the channel floor as it curves through this region. This pattern shows that even this relatively small channel, which varies in width from about 500 to 750 m throughout this image, acts to funnel the wind down the channel.