The leaf-like structures were photographed in the Antoniadi impact crater, in the planet’s northern hemisphere. The impact crater sits in the Syrtis Major Planum region, where ancient water is believed to have once flowed. The photos were taken by the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, which is a joint mission between the European Space Agency (ESA) and Russia’s Roscosmos.
ExoMars snapped the photos on March 25, as it passed over the 250 mile-wide (400km) crater.
The crater is unusually blue but this is a false colour image meant to highlight the detail in the pockmarked surface.
But the most interesting features are the leaf-like structure that are sprawled across the crater’s surface.
The features are visible across the central part of the image, where the crater’s floor is blemished by what appear to be smaller impact points.
But these are not signs of alien fauna on the Red Planet.
Instead, ESA speculates these are evidence of ancient water channels cutting across the crater billions of years ago.
Before Mars lost its magnetosphere and became the barren desert it is today, it is believed to have resembled a young Earth with running surface waters.
ESA said: “In the centre of the image are dendric structures which look like the veins on oak leaves.
“This is because the channels were filled with harder material – possibly lava – and over time the softer rocks surrounding these branching channels have been eroded, leaving an inverted imprint of this ancient river system.”
Dendric structures which look like the veins on oak leaves
European Space Agency (ESA)
The Mars photos were shared as part of a springtime on Mars series of images, curated by ESA.
The photos were captured by the Colour and Stereo Surface Imaging System (CaSSIS) right after the planet passed the spring equinox.
Another image, snapped on April 27, shows an impact crater inside the so-called Green Crater in the Argyre quadrangle in the southern hemisphere.
The right side of the image is dominated by an intricate dune, surrounded by dark red soil.
The white streaks running alongside the dunes are made of ice.
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ESA said: “Gullies, also partially covered with ice, are visible in the crater wall in the centre of the image.
“Scientists are currently investigating the relationship between this seasonal ice and the presence of the gullies.”
Shortly after the spring equinox, the southernmost part of the crater was almost devoid of ice.
This is in contrast to the northern part of the crater that was still partially covered.
The stark difference is due to the southern crater wall being exposed to sunlight for a longer period of time.
A third photo snapped by ESA’s ExoMars shows the Argyre impact basin in the Martian southern highlands.
The seasonal ice within the 500 mile-long (800km) basin can be seen receding towards the top.
The right side of the image, however, is still covered with white frost.
ESA said: “On Mars, incoming solar radiation transforms the ice into water vapour directly without melting it first into water in a process called sublimation.”
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