A newly released image of Mars shows an icy scene, with ribbons of red and white dancing across the frosty landscape near the planet’s south pole.
While the snowy scene may evoke the feeling of a “winter wonderland” on the Red Planet, it was actually captured by the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft on May 19. This means that the frozen image actually represents spring in the southern hemisphere of Mars and the Martian ice has begun to recede.
Just six days before a large part of the Earth celebrates the New Year, on December 26, the Red Planet will begin its new year, which will last 687 Earth days. The planet has four seasons, winter, spring, summer and autumn, and just like on Earth, the red planet’s winter is cold and summer is warm, although winter is colder than our season, as temperatures on Mars drop to minus 76 degrees Fahrenheit. (minus 60 degrees Celsius).
RelatedThis ice hole near the north pole of Mars is a winter wonderland (photos)
Christmas is special for Mars Express, too: Christmas Day 2022 marks 19 years since the spacecraft reached Mars.
Arguably the most striking features in the newly released image are two massive impact forts, associated with alternating layers of water ice and sediments called “polar layered sediments.” These deposits can also be seen in the hills extending between the two craters.
As the ice dries up, more higher elevation areas appear frost-free, and throughout the image dark sand dunes stream through surface frost in other areas. The dune fields appear as sharp ridges running parallel to the direction of the most prevalent winds and in keeping with the shape of the underlying features.
Scientists believe that the dust that fills these dunes is grim because it originates from buried material from volcanoes that erupted in ancient Mars history that was eventually exposed to strong Martian winds that carried it effortlessly across the surface of the Red Planet.
Other dark spots in the image represent this dust and the action of jets that blast across the icy surface when the underlying carbon dioxide ice turns directly into a gas, a process called sublimation. These jets shoot jets of dust into the Martian atmosphere, which then settle into dark patches on the planet’s surface.
However, these are not the only elements in the image generated by sublimation. The polar region is dotted with a number of large, irregular features produced by sublimated ice. These look like empty lakes dug into the surface of Mars, with a clear example of this visible in the upper left corner of the new image.
Observing these features from orbit means that scientists can observe the processes that shape the surface of Mars and change the appearance of the polar regions.
But the picture of spring in the southern hemisphere of Mars is not only full of superficial features. Hazy clouds also appear over the surface of Mars. Particularly visible across the center of the image, these clouds contain water ice and their path is influenced in part by the topography of the surface terrain beneath them.
During the Martian winter, carbon dioxide is deposited at the Martian poles as ice, then melts and sublimes in the spring. The release of the gas back into the Martian atmosphere increases atmospheric pressure and causes strong winds.
In turn, these winds drive the massive exchange of material between the Martian surface and mantle throughout the Martian year.
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