No, you’re not looking at some modern painting above. This is an image taken by a Mars orbiter, showing an intriguing location on Mars.
The image was taken by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). It was snapped from a distance of 277 kilometers (173 miles) above Mars on November 19, 2017.
It shows the northern Meridiana Planum, a region on Mars that has clearly visible faults. These have disrupted layered deposits on the surface, leading to the rather unusual feature you can see here. This was also the landing site for the rover Opportunity in 2004.
“Interestingly, the layers continue across the fault and appear stretched out,” said NASA. “These observations suggest that some of the faulting occurred while the layered deposits were still soft and could undergo deformation, whereas other faults formed later when the layers must have been solidified and produced a clean break.”
Faults on Mars might seem a bit confusing, as the planet does not have any active plate tectonics like on Earth. However, faults can be caused by a lot of things like volcanic activity, an asteroid impact, and more.
Some research suggests Mars may even have a primitive form of plate tectonics, which could explain regions like this. Plates may become active every million years or so, producing Marsquakes in the process.
It’s not clear how the feature in this particular image formed. But it’s impressive nonetheless.