Discovering the Marvels of Mars: A Journey to Nili Fossae

Board a spaceship to the trenches of Mars, and visit the Nili Fossae of OLYMPUS – minus the mythological gods, but with a soundtrack by Jean Michel Jarre: Mars’s Nili Fossae trenches flyover thanks to the combination of data collected by the ship of ESA’s Mars Express mission.

Unveiling the Mysteries of Nili Fossae

The trenches of Nili Fossae, part of a graben field hundreds of metres deep and dozens of kilometres long carved into the Martian landscape, is another intriguing place. Mars has experienced many violent impacts. The most famous, Isidis Planitia, covers an area half the size of North America, and is roughly centered on Nili Fossae. Could the creation of Nili Fossae’s trenches have been the result of the same cataclysmic event? Was a meteorite of incomprehensible power slamming into Mars creating Isidis Planitia but it wasn’t over? The punching and pulling that created the impact basin left the planet troubled, a distressed landscape in need of repair. The crust had to heal.

The Majesty of OLYMPUS and the Martian Landscape

Mars’s greatest geographical marvel is the giant mountain known as Olympus Mons. As the tallest mountain in the solar system, it’s a silent spectre keeping an alien sentinel over the entirety of Martian. OLYMPUS’s height – three times that of Everest – is a testament to the enormous gravity waves that have jumbled the planetary surface for billions of years. Nili Fossae stretches out like ripples in a lake: Mars’s geological contrasts tell us that this is far from a dead planet.

Mars Express: Bringing Mars to Earth

The video of the trenches on Nili Fossae can be viewed only because of the wonders of technology that went into the Mars Express mission. The HRSC onboard Mars Express created a digital terrain model of the Martian surface that allowed the team to produce a 3D flyover simulation of Mars’s rough terrain. The final product, seen here, gives a unique perspective on Nili Fossae and the surrounding area, including Jezero Crater, the site of the Perseverance rover’s current activities.

A Glimpse into Martian History: Water and Life?

An earlier Nasa rover, Curiosity, was even considered for a mission there; the region’s diverse mineralogy is powerful evidence that water once flowed widely here and continues to circulate below the surface. It is not a waste for Nasa’s Curiosity rover to be traipsing around Gale Crater instead of Nili Fossae. Within Nili Fossae, a nearly infinite range of minerals, including silicates, carbonates and clays, have been identified by the Mars Express’s OMEGA instrument. Many of the minerals spotted by OMEGA indicate that water (and, theoretically, life) ‘could have been prevalent in Nili Fossae’ on Mars, the report says.

The Future of Mars Exploration

Even centuries later, Nili Fossae – and Mars – still serve to inform and advance both the science and technology of exploring the Red Planet. Humanity’s grasp of the nature of Mars continues to evolve, and exploration of Nili Fossae and beyond inspires hopes of future missions whose landing sites will be shaped by what we have come to understand about Mars. Nili Fossae – its discoveries and its mysteries – hold the potential to reveal the Red Planet’s past, present and future, even as it pushes ever further the limits of what is known and what remains possible to imagine.

The Importance of OLYMPUS in Martian Exploration

Olympus Mons, Nili Fossae, and other geographical landmarks of Mars are the pinnacles of exploration. They provide important data to scientists and mark goals for future exploration efforts. They hold the keys to understanding Mars and, perhaps, the secrets of the solar system.

Conclusion: Illuminating the OLYMPUS of Mars

Looking into Nili Fossae, and up at Olympus Mons, we gain a real sense of the epic power of nature — even on a planet 33 million miles away from home. And through the experiences of the Mars Express mission, and of the scientists who fuel the spacecraft, we gain a deeper understanding of Mars’ striking beauty and the possibility that sustains it, the possibility of life.


But throughout this article, Olympus refers primarily to Olympus Mons, the massive volcano of Mars that testifies to the planet’s energised geological past and remaining potential for grand, raw spectacles of nature. Olympus Mons, as well as nearby terrains such as Nili Fossae, typify the quest that drives the exploration of Mars, the desire that compels humans to settle for nothing less than the ultimate prize: understanding our solar system, piece by piece.

Jun 02, 2024
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