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Newly released images from the European Space Agency's Mars Express show Nili Fossae, a system of deep fractures around the giant Isidis impact basin. Some of these incisions into the martian crust are up to 500 m deep and probably formed at the same time as the basin.
Nili Fossae interests planetary scientists because observations taken with telescopes on Earth and published in 2009 have shown that there is a significant enhancement in Mars' atmospheric methane over this area, suggesting that methane may be being produced there. Its origin remains mysterious, however, and could be geological or perhaps even biological.
This image shows an area covering approximately 10 300 sq km. It was taken during orbit 5270, on 8 February 2008, using the High-Resolution Stereo Camera on Mars Express
Dr. Mumma’s group used telescopes in Hawaii to examine the light reflected off Mars. Different molecules absorb different wavelengths of light, and the scientists reported seeing black lines in the spectrum corresponding to methane and to water vapor. As Mars rotated, bringing different areas into view of the telescope, the scientists could measure variations in the concentrations.
The concentrations in 2003 were densest over three regions — known as Terra Sabae, Nili Fossae and Syrtis Major — and as high as 45 parts per billion. The scientists said that mineralogy of the surface suggested these areas had flowing water in the far Martian past.