Contact Information

Weizmann Institute of Science
Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences
Center for Planetary Science
Rehovot 76100, Israel Tel: 972-8-934 6961
Email: Oded.Aharonson[at] Fax: 972-8-934 4124

Research Interests

Mars Surface
Simulations & Experiments
Mars Sedimentology &
Mars Exploration
Mars Bedrock
Planetary Geomorphology

The Man
in the Moon
Titan's Lakes

Planetary Geomorphology

A history of processes acting through time is recorded in the morphology of planetary surfaces. Quantitatively describing this connection between form and process remains a formidable and fascinating challenge.

There are a few examples in which we have had recent success. The surface of Mars has been revealed in exquisite detail due to observations by an instrument suite on board the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS). Analyses of these data are ongoing. The Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA) permitted construction of topographic maps of an unprecedented accuracy and resolution. Statistical properties of the surface have been constrained, as have roughness properties over many scales. The map below summarizes the surface roughness by plotting the Inter-Quartile Scale (IQS) of the elevation distribution, obtained from MOLA elevations spaced by ~300 m, and binned in 35-km windows. This robust measure is insensitive to outliers in the distribution, and hence provides a useful quantification of the topographic variations.  Prominent features, such as 1. Olympus Mons, 2. Alba Patera, 3. Valles Marineris, 4. Sinus Meridiani, 5. the hemispheric dichotomy boundary, 6. Hellas rim, and 7. Olympia Planitia, have distinct roughness signatures.

The geologic and morphologic characterization of potential landing sites is of particular importance, for both scientific and practical reasons. Among the many motivations for this characterization, are the selection of scientifically rich sites, the testing and calibration of remote sensing predictions with ground truth, and the ascertaining of potential hazards for landers and rovers. The most likely landing site for the Mars Environmental Rover mission due to launch in 2003 is in Sinus Meridiani. The observation of a Hematite deposit there has led to a suggestion that a standing body of water was responsible for the iron oxidation. The map shown below demonstrates that the region's present-day topography does not form a closed basin, but rather has a westerly tilt. Sliding the pointer over the image will reveal contours of IQS surface roughness as well as the spectrally mapped location of the Hematite deposits. Note the close correspondence of the Hematite unit with a smooth area of IQS < 20 m. The possibility of a ancient body of water at this site is supported if the unusual smoothness is due to sedimentation in an aqueous environment.

We have also carried out analysis of slopes using data returned from asteroid 433 Eros by the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) mission's Laser Ranger (NLR). The shape of Eros is complex, and determining slopes, or even the direction of the gravity vector, can be tricky. Dividing the surface into roughly plates of roughly equal area helps, and by rolling the pointer over the image below, the computed slope histogram is revealed. Evidently, Eros possesses some slopes steeper than the angle of repose for most unconsolidated materials.


Rosenburg M.A., Aharonson O., Sari R., Topographic power spectra of cratered terrains: Theory and application to the Moon, J. Geophys. Res. Planets, 120 (2), 177–194, 2015. [DOI: 10.1002/2014JE004746]

Kreslavsky M.A., Head J.W., Neumann G.A., Rosenburg M.A., Aharonson O., Smith D.E., Zuber M.T. Lunar topographic roughness maps from Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA) data: Scale dependence and correlation with geologic features and units, Icarus, 226 (1), 52–66, 2013. [DOI: 10.1016/j.icarus.2013.04.027]

Rosenburg M.A., Aharonson O., Head J.W., Kreslavsky M.A., Mazarico E., Neumann G.A., Smith D.E., Torrence M.H., Zuber M.T., Global surface slopes and roughness of the Moon from the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter, J. Geophys. Res. Planets, 116, E02001, 2011. [DOI: 10.1029/2010JE003716]

Neumann G.A., Abshire J.B., Aharonson O., Garvin J.B., Sun X., Zuber M.T., Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter pulse width measurements and footprint-scale roughness, Geophys. Res. Lett., 30 (11), 1561, 2003. [DOI: 10.1029/2003GL017048]

Zuber M.T., Smith D.E., Cheng A.F., Garvin J.B., Aharonson O., Cole T.D., Dunn P.J., Guo Y., Lemoine F.G., Neumann G.A., Rowlands D.D., Torrence M.H., The shape of 433 Eros from the NEAR-Shoemaker Laser Rangefinder, Science, 289 (5487), 2097-2101, 2000. [DOI: 10.1126/science.289.5487.2097]

More information about this and other research is available in the form of published manuscripts here.