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Surprisingly smooth terrain

The plain around the impact craters, which also has a smooth, flat surface, shows interesting landscape features. It is not covered by countless small and medium-sized impact craters, as one would expect for a surface of this age on Mars. Secondary craters, which are formed when ejected material hits the area around a newly formed crater, are not visible either. Only a handful of bowl-shaped, lightly eroded and therefore young craters can be found there. It appears that craters older than a certain age have been subject to 'melting' and that many of the smaller and medium-sized impact craters that were even older have disappeared as a result. Ice in the Marian subsurface seems to have played the key role in this levelling process.

Given enough time, smaller surface structures formed on an ice-rich surface may also 'melt' again due to the flow of the ice, breaking down to a certain extent and smoothing the surface again. The process, which is typical of glacial activity on Mars, is referred to as 'terrain softening'. This observation shows that there were once large quantities of water on Mars. They created glacier-like flow structures with very large ice masses, especially during the Noachian Period. Today, most of the glacier ice has long since sublimed and left the debris masses it carried with it as witnesses of its flow processes, similar to glacial moraines on Earth. However, ground ice is still abundant on Mars today. It was first detected in 2008 by NASA’s Phoenix lander in the high latitudes of the northern lowlands.