9. The Surface of Mars
The Viking 2 lander touched down on a vast plain, Utopia Planitia, in Mars’ mid-northern latitudes. In this scene, the lander cameras look past the spacecraft's body and radio antenna to the bleak, barren desert of Utopia. Viking 2’s view of Utopia shows a flat plain, although it looks like a hill here because the lander is tilted. Utopia is littered with pitted black rocks, mostly the same size. Reddish dust lies among the rocks and on them. These rocks were probably thrown out of the impact crater Mie, which is 90 kilometers in diameter, and lies about 200 kilometers from the landing site. The rocks are black or dark gray and are most likely from ancient lava flows.
The reddish, rusty dust in this scene is nearly everywhere on Mars. Dust devils move it short distances, and dust storms can move it around the whole planet, so the same dust sits between the rocks of the Viking 1 lander site, half a planet away from this Viking 2 site. Indeed, the same reddish rusty dust covers most of the rest of Mars (for example, see slide #4). Even Mars’ air is never clear of dust, so the sky always looks orangish or pinkish.
The Viking 2 lander at Utopia Planitia. 47°N, 225°W. Viking lander image 22A158. Image processing by Brian Fessler (Lunar and Planetary Institute).