Mars Express: New images of the Red Planet show off its icy “brain terrain”

The ESA's Mars Express has been providing insight into the red planet since 2004.
Chris Young
Mars' Utopia Planitia.ESA/DLR/FU Berlin

What exactly is "brain terrain"?

The Mars Express spacecraft collected new images of the surface of Mars, showing craters in the dust and ice of the Red Planet's surface, a press statement reveals.

The mission, operated by the European Space Agency (ESA), collected data from the Utopia Planitia, a major basin in Mars' northern hemisphere that is approximately twice the size of the Sahara Desert and is largely covered in ice.

The new images reveal impressive features of the icy plains of Utopia Planitia, including dark regions under the ice and massive craters.

Shedding new light on Mars' Utopia Planitia

Scientists believe the Utopia Planitia basin, which has a diameter of approximately 2,050 miles, was formed more than 10 million years ago when it snowed more regularly on Mars. Studying this region could provide further insight into the evolution of the basin over millennia. 

The second-largest crater on the left in the image above features something called "brain terrain," which refers to the brain-like texture on the icy surface. In its statement, ESA explains that brain terrain is most typically found on the northern plains and southern highlands of Mars.

Mars Express: New images of the Red Planet show off its icy “brain terrain”
An image of Utopia Planitia taken from above by Mars Express. Source: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin

Brain terrain is "where material has become deformed and warped in a concentric pattern that resembles the complex patterns and ridges found on the surface of the human brain," ESA says in its statement. The darker region in the images, meanwhile, shows where the ground has contracted under the heavy surface ice.

Uncovering Mars' mysteries since 2004

The Mars Express spacecraft was recently used to "listen" to China's Zhurong rover, which reached the Red Planet last year. The Zhurong rover relies on the orbiting spacecraft to relay its data back to Earth.

On its website, the ESA also shared a video in 2020 showing the Mars Express spacecraft's flyby of the Jezero Crater, where NASA's Mars Perseverance rover is located, the rover that recently provided evidence that the crater was once a large lake.

Mars Express started science operations in 2004 after reaching the Red Planet in 2003. Among the key discoveries made by the spacecraft are the finding of water, the detection of water-ice deposits underground, and evidence showing that Mars may have seen volcanic activity more recently than previously believed. Much of the data collected by the mission will guide future efforts to send humans to the Red Planet at some point in the 2030s.

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