Mars' “White Rock” feature lacks evidence of an aqueous origin: Results from Mars Global Surveyor


  • Steven W. Ruff,

  • Philip R. Christensen,

  • Roger N. Clark,

  • Hugh H. Kieffer,

  • Michael C. Malin,

  • Joshua L. Bandfield,

  • Bruce M. Jakosky,

  • Melissa D. Lane,

  • Michael T. Mellon,

  • Marsha A. Presley


The “White Rock” feature on Mars has long been viewed as a type example for a Martian playa largely because of its apparent high albedo along with its location in a topographic basin (a crater). Data from the Mars Global Surveyor Thermal Emission Spectrometer (TES) demonstrate that White Rock is not anomalously bright relative to other Martian bright regions, reducing the significance of its albedo and weakening the analogy to terrestrial playas. Its thermal inertia value indicates that it is not mantled by a layer of loose dust, nor is it bedrock. The thermal infrared spectrum of White Rock shows no obvious features of carbonates or sulfates and is, in fact, spectrally flat. Images from the Mars Orbiter Camera show that the White Rock massifs are consolidated enough to retain slopes and allow the passage of saltating grains over their surfaces. Material appears to be shed from the massifs and is concentrated at the crests of nearby bedforms. One explanation for these observations is that White Rock is an eroded accumulation of compacted or weakly cemented aeolian sediment.