MARS: HELLAS SEA
by Chris Wayan, 2003
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The largest impact basin in the Solar System, Hellas was so deep that it was the only place on Mars where liquid water could survive on the surface, even before terraforming. Now the Hellas Sea is most earthlike place on Mars, with an air-pressure much higher than at (northern) sea level. This has profound implications--Hellas is between 30 and 60 degrees south, yet it's as mild as the Martian tropics. Indeed, plants grow here that won't at the equator, for the air blocks more ultraviolet. Flying here will also be the easiest on Mars, a fact not only exploited by humans with strap-on (or gengineered) wings, but by mega-parrots, who, removed from the constraints of Earth gravity, will quadruple in size--including brains, of course! The most vocal animals on Earth will become the most vocal people on Mars. Does this seem extreme? Let me remind you that recent testing suggests Terran parrots and ravens are already as intelligent as apes, and that chimps (with a third our brain capacity) are already making stone tools. Under Martian conditions, megaparrots with less than human-level intelligence would be the surprise. The real question is whether they'll merely be our equals, or smarter than us.
East and west of the sea are curving mazes of warm, wooded valleys and farms below the snowy peaks of the Hellespont Mountains. Eventually the concentric ridges break up into chaos--the shattered, cratered deserts typical of the Southern Highlands.
The mountains to the northwest block the rains; beyond is the Araby desert--but broken by a huge crater-oasis called Huygens, one of the largest on Mars. It's a double-walled crater, with a deep lake in the center, and a ring of forest and grassland. In its depth, enough to create a pocket of nearly Earthlike air, Huygens is almost a miniature of Hellas. Curiously, the other great impact basin of the south, Argyre, has a nearly identical "satellite" crater to its northwest, Lowell--and it too is double-walled, with a central lake.
To the northeast, the slope of the basin is smoother, and the rains and thick air extend further from the sea; especially in the Dao and Harmakis Valleys, two river-channels half-flooded at their mouths, forming long sounds. At the head of the two rivers, 500 kilometers northeast of Hellas and due east of Tyrrhena, is a volcanic highland, Hadriaca Patera. Beyond lies Nepenthe--the Martian Eden.
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