Irregularly Shaped Boulder Rolls Down Martian Hill, Lands Upright

Tall Boulder Rolls Down Martian Hill

A path resembling a dotted line from the upper left to middle right of this image is the track left by an irregularly shaped, oblong boulder as it tumbled down a slope on Mars before coming to rest in an upright attitude at the downhill end of the track. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

A newly released image from the HiRISE camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows an irregularly shaped boulder that apparently rolled down a hill on Mars and stopped in an upright position.

A track about one-third of a mile (500 meters) long on Mars shows where an irregularly shaped boulder careened downhill to its current upright position, seen in a July 3, 2014, image from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

The shadow cast by the rock in mid-afternoon sunlight reveals it is about 20 feet (6 meters) tall. In the downward-looking image, the boulder is only about 11.5 feet (3.5 meters) wide. It happened to come to rest with its long dimension vertical. The trail it left on the slope has a pattern that suggests the boulder couldn’t roll smoothly or straight due to its shape.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. HiRISE, one of six science instruments on the orbiter, is operated by the University of Arizona, Tucson. The instrument was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colorado.


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