NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems
Athabasca Vallis is a large channel system cut by catastrophic floods in the Cerberus region, south of Albor Tholus, on Mars. The age and history of Athabasca Vallis is the subject of some current debate in the Mars science community; some consider it to be geologically young, others suggest the valley is ancient and has been exhumed after being buried for an unknown, but considerable, length of time. The valley system contains evidence suggesting that lava flows--or, perhaps, mud flows--as well as water, once poured through this area. This Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) image presents another puzzle: odd, somewhat circular features on the floor of the Athabasca Vallis near 9.7°N, 203.7°W. Their cause is unknown; some of the landforms nearby (not visible here) suggest the circular features are exhumed. This picture was taken in April 2003; it covers an area 1.7 km (1 mi) across and is illuminated from the left.
Malin Space Science Systems and the California Institute of Technology built the MOC using spare hardware from the Mars Observer mission. MSSS operates the camera from its facilities in San Diego, California. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Mars Surveyor Operations Project operates the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft with its industrial partner, Lockheed Martin Astronautics, from facilities in Pasadena, California and Denver, Colorado.