What an astonishing and strange place this is, this vast and fractal landscape on Mars. As Wired describes it, the rolling polar expanse seen above is actually "one of the smoothest, flattest places" on the not-so-Red Planet, a region so well-levelled and repetitive that "there are no landmarks visible".
The twisting, brain-like canyons seen from above in this recently released NASA photograph — a kind of extraterrestrial Utah — are, in fact, only a metre deep and 18m across. Humans would be more like prairie dogs here, scampering about a frozen labyrinth of water and carbon dioxide ice.
Wired goes on to suggest that this Canyonlands of Mars is just a "monotonous landscape", one that "continues for hundreds of kilometres in every direction with this same repeating pattern." Like Saudi Arabia's Empty Quarter, or perhaps the wind-swept glacial mesas of Antarctica, it initially seems to be a place of unrelenting bleakness and self-repetition, something scaled far beyond a space humans might be able to comprehend.
But surely "monotonous" is an absurd way to describe such an amazing and literally other-worldly landscape? An alien place ironically similar to the expanses once dismissed by early European explorers as nothing more than empty wastelands, who turned away from the Grand Canyon with revulsion, not Romantic awe?
Future hikers in weird, intensely physical landscapes such as these will produce more great poetry — more epics, more myths, more folktales — than our small-minded, terrestrial libraries could ever hold. [Wired]