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North Pole, Mars

North Pole, Mars

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Thursday, January 16, 2020/Categories: natural history, photography, space science, sustainability, art and design, environment

                                        Wide-angle view of the North Polar Icecap on Mars (credit: ESA)

New images of the north polar region on Mars have been produced by the European Space Agency, ESA. According to their anouncement, the Mars Express has imaged polar features including bright ice, dark troughs, and evidence of strong storms and winds at the North Pole on Mars. The polar region changes throughout the Martian seasons. The pole is covered in layers of water ice that undergo shifts in composition and extent. Thick layers of ice cover it throughout the year but in winter, when the temperature drop to -225F (-143C), carbon dioxide freezes and forms a layer of frozen CO2 on top of the water ice.

In previous Mars Express images, dark red-orange troughs were seen to cut through the Martian ice cap. They form part of a system of depressions that spiral and bend outwards from the center of the pole. These troughs are formed by a variety of geologic processes, the most significant being erosion as winds cycle outwards to create the surface patterns. On Earth such katabatic winds move cold, dry air downslope, ususally originating at higher elevations on mountains, glaciers, and plateaus, flowing down into warmer, low-lying areas such as valleys. These winds are affected by the Coriolis force as they move, which causes them to deviate from a straight path and form the spiral patterns at the Martian North Pole as imaged by the ESA.


                             Clouds & Storms, Mars North Pole 1-13-2020, (credit: ESA)

     Mars Express Mapping Path, 1-13-2020 (credit: ESA)

The new image was captured by a High Resolution Stereo Camera shows streams of clouds, aligned perpendicular (lower left) to some troughs. The clouds may be produced by storms lifting dust into the Martian atmosphere, eroding scarps and slopes, and changing the trough's appearance by wind erosion. A key goal of Mars Express is to monitor the Martian atmosphere, including winds and storms, and geological processes that occur on the surface. The HiRes camera has produced detailed maps since arriving at Mars in 2003.



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