Mars' striking geography continues to stun. NASA has released a new image of the Red Planet's surface, showing a magnificent gradient of ridged lines carved into ground by ice gradually inching across the landscape.
The image was captured in August by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), a spacecraft that's been keeping a close eye on the planet since 2006.
These frosty formations are what's described as an ice flow. Though Mars is a desert world, it's a cold one, with sand sometimes intermingling with ice in its chillier climes. It has a northern and southern polar ice cap, where sheets of frozen water and dust permanently cover the surface. The planet is also home to seasonal ice caps composed of dry ice that can form above the permanent water ice layers.
Occasionally, such ice deposits can be found outside the polar caps, like in this image. Per NASA's release, the ice is flowing downhill, sucking up rocks and soil as it continues its slow advance. This can go on for thousands of years, creating these distinctive furrowed patterns in the landscape.
HiPOD: Icy Flows — The surface of Mars is littered with examples of glacier-like landforms. While surface ice deposits are mostly limited to the polar caps, patterns of viscous flow abound in many non-polar regions of Mars. https://t.co/IIUJK8dtnz
— HiRISE: Beautiful Mars (NASA) (@HiRISE) August 16, 2023
Ice formations are of interest to scientists because they can be closely examined to reveal the history of Mars' climate, not unlike how ice cores are studied on Earth.
The MRO plays a major part in that, thanks to its High resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) instrument, "the most powerful camera ever sent to another planet." The spacecraft can image the Martian surface in extreme detail, and with the help of its other instruments, even track the distribution of dust in water in the atmosphere, as well as hunting for the geological remnants of long extinct bodies of water.
Hopefully, there will be no shortage of cold clues to come that will reveal to us more secrets about Mars' past.
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