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Incredible new geological map of Mars will guide our investigation for years to come

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Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist, theweathernetwork.com

Tuesday, July 15, 2014, 10:14 PM - The various satellites orbiting around Mars have been a busy little swarm over the years, sending a wealth of data back to Earth that scientists have turned into incredibly detailed maps of the planet. The latest, from the USGS Astrogeology Science Center, now gives us a highly detailed look at the geology of the Red Planet.

"Spacecraft exploration of Mars over the past couple decades has greatly improved our understanding of what geologic materials, events and processes shaped its surface," Kenneth Tanaka, the USGS scientist that led the study that produced this map, said in a news statement. "The new geologic map brings this research together into a holistic context that helps to illuminate key relationships in space and time, providing information to generate and test new hypotheses."

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Credit: U.S. Geological Survey, Astrogeology Science Center

According to the USGS, this latest map reveals some important new information about Mars. 1) its surface has been far more geologically active in the past (indeed up until recently), shaped by volcanism and flowing water into what we see today, and 2) the surface is much older than past estimates showed, with far more of it than has been previously mapped dating back to between 3.7 to 4.1 billion years ago (the early Noachian Period), when the planet was under heavy bombardment by asteroids and meteoroids, and extensive water flows carved large areas of the landscape. Since that time, the planet's atmosphere has slowly been lost into space and locked away in the ground and the planet's interior has cooled. However, many areas of the surface still show evidence of being influenced by volcanic activity, ice and periodic flows of liquid water.

The image below, which shows a comparison between the new geological map and a topographical map (lower regions of elevation in blues, greens and yellows, and higher elevations in oranges, reds and browns), will be a useful took for guiding future missions to the planet.

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Credit: U.S. Geological Survey, Astrogeology Science Center

"Findings from the map will enable researchers to evaluate potential landing sites for future Mars missions that may contribute to further understanding of the planet’s history," USGS Acting Director Suzette Kimball said in the statement. "The new Mars global geologic map will provide geologic context for regional and local scientific investigations for many years to come."

Video credit: Jennifer LaVista/USGS, USGS Astrogeology Science Center, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

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