The discovery made in this image is the small depressions found in the upper left and center of image with faint dark lines crossing lighter floors. These depressions, and the pattern of lines, are similar to dry lake beds seen throughout the deserts of the southwestern United States. The light material may be salts or other minerals deposited as the lake evaporated, and the dark lines may be cracks created as the material dried out. Alternative explanations for the dark lines, involving freezing and thawing of water-saturated soil, are equally intriguing. In both cases, these features are the examples of a suite of such forms that can be used to diagnose the amount and distribution of surficial water that may have once ponded on Mars.
Launched on November 7, 1996, Mars Global Surveyor entered Mars orbit on Thursday, September 11, 1997. The original mission plan called for using friction with the planet's atmosphere to reduce the orbital energy, leading to a two-year mapping mission from close, circular orbit (beginning in March 1998). Owing to difficulties with one of the two solar panels, aerobraking was suspended in mid-October and resumed in November 8. Many of the original objectives of the mission, and in particular those of the camera, are likely to be accomplished as the mission progresses.
Malin Space Science Systems and the California Institute of Technology built the MOC using spare hardware from the Mars Observer mission. MSSS operates the camera from its facilities in San Diego, CA. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Mars Surveyor Operations Project operates the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft with its industrial partner, Lockheed Martin Astronautics, from facilities in Pasadena, CA and Denver, CO.