Promethei Terra is a large Martian region covering 3300 km at its broadest extent. It lies to the east of the massive Hellas basin. Like much of the southern part of the planet it is a heavily cratered, highland region. Promethei Terra was named for a classic albedo feature of Mars, with the original name derived from that of the Greek god Prometheus. Promethei Terra lies mostly in the Hellas quadrangle of Mars.
Lobate debris aprons
One very important feature common in Promethei Terra are piles of material surrounding cliffs. These materials are called lobate debris aprons (LDAs). Recently, research with the Shallow Radar on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has provided strong evidence that the LDAs are glaciers that are covered with a thin layer of rocks. Large amounts of water ice are believed to be in the LDAs. Available evidence strongly suggests this area accumulated snow in the past. When the tilt (obliquity) of Mars increases the southern ice cap releases large amounts of water vapor. Climate models predict that when this occurs water vapor condenses and falls where LDAs are located. The tilt of the earth changes little because our relatively large moon keeps it stable. The two tiny Martian moons do not stabilize its planet, so the rotational axis of Mars undergoes large variations. It has been known for some time that Mars undergoes many large changes in its tilt or obliquity because its two small moons lack the gravity to stabilize it, as our moon stabilizes Earth; at times the tilt has even been greater than 80 degrees
Lobate debris aprons may be a major source of water for future Mars colonists. Their major advantage over other sources of Martian water are that they can easily mapped from orbit and they are closer to the equator where manned missions are more likely to land.
Many formations are probably glaciers or the remains of old glaciers because they look so much like glaciers on the Earth.
Romer Lake's Elephant Foot Glacier in the Earth's Arctic, as seen by Landsat 8. This picture shows several glaciers that have the same shape as many features on Mars that are believed to also be glaciers.
Gullies occur on steep slopes, especially on the walls of craters. Gullies are believed to be relatively young because they have few, if any craters. Moreover, they lie on top of sand dunes which themselves are considered to be quite young. Usually, each gully has an alcove, channel, and apron. Some studies have found that gullies occur on slopes that face all directions, others have found that the greater number of gullies are found on poleward facing slopes, especially from 30-44 S.
For years, many believed that gullies were formed by running water, but further observations demonstrate that they may be formed by dry ice. Recent studies describe using the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on MRO to examine gullies at 356 sites, starting in 2006. Thirty-eight of the sites showed active gully formation. Before-and-after images demonstrated the timing of this activity coincided with seasonal carbon dioxide frost and temperatures that would not have allowed for liquid water. When dry ice frost changes to a gas, it may lubricate dry material to flow especially on steep slopes. In some years frost, perhaps as thick as 1 meter, triggers avalanches. This frost contains mostly dry ice, but also has tiny amounts of water ice.
Other scenes in Promethei Terra
Interactive Mars map
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Promethei Terra.|
- Geologic Map of Reull Vallis Region of Mars, includes the highlands of eastern Promethei Terra, by Astrogeology Science Center, U.S. Geological Survey
- Martian Ice - Jim Secosky - 16th Annual International Mars Society Convention
- Google Mars centered on Promethei Terra
- European Space Agency images of Promethei Terra