Google Play icon

Swirling spirals at the north pole of Mars

Share
Posted February 3, 2017

Perspective view of Mars north polar ice cap

A new mosaic from ESA’s Mars Express shows off the Red Planet’s north polar ice cap and its distinctive dark spiralling troughs.

The mosaic was generated from 32 individual orbit ‘strips’ captured between 2004 and 2010, and covers an area of around a million square kilometres.

Mars north polar ice cap in context

The ice cap is a permanent fixture, but in the winter season – as it is now in early 2017 – temperatures are cold enough for around 30 percent of the carbon dioxide in the planet’s atmosphere to precipitate onto the cap, adding a seasonal layer up to a metre thick.

During the warmer summer months most of the carbon dioxide ice turns directly into gas and escapes into the atmosphere, leaving behind the water-ice layers.

Strong winds are thought to have played an important role in shaping the ice cap over time, blowing from the elevated centre towards its lower edges and twisted by the same Coriolis force that causes hurricanes to spiral on Earth.

One particularly prominent feature is a 500 km-long, 2 km-deep trench that almost cuts the cap in two.

The plunging canyon, known as Chasma Boreale, is thought to be a relatively old feature, forming before the ice–dust spiral features, and seemingly growing deeper as new ice deposits built up around it.

Colour mosaic of Mars north polar ice cap

Subsurface investigations by radar instruments onboard Mars Express and NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter revealed that the ice cap is made up of many individual layers of ice and dust extending to a depth of around 2 km.

This presents a valuable record for the nature of how the planet’s climate has changed as its tilt and orbit varied over hundreds of thousands of years.

Perspective view of Chasma Boreale

Source: ESA

Featured news from related categories:

Technology Org App
Google Play icon
84,023 science & technology articles

Most Popular Articles

  1. Efficiency of solar panels could be improved without changing them at all (September 2, 2019)
  2. Diesel is saved? Volkswagen found a way to reduce NOx emissions by 80% (September 3, 2019)
  3. The famous old Titanic is disappearing into time - a new expedition observed the corrosion (September 2, 2019)
  4. Moisturizers May Be Turning Your Skin Into "Swiss Cheese" (August 19, 2019)
  5. The Time Is Now for Precision Patient Monitoring (July 3, 2019)

Follow us

Facebook   Twitter   Pinterest   Tumblr   RSS   Newsletter via Email