Sand and ice dunes meet at the north pole of Mars


Intriguing images from Mars' north pole show vast sand dunes meeting sheets of ice. The photos were captured by Mars Express, an unmanned European Space Agency (ESA) space mission that has been orbiting the red planet since 2003.

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The north pole of Mars

  • The featured image released this Wednesday (28) was captured by Mars Express's high-resolution stereo camera (HRSC).
  • The land surrounding the north pole of Mars, known as “Planum Boreum” is covered in layers of fine dust and ice;
  • The piled ice is kilometers thick and stretches about the same width as France (about 1,000 km);
  • The soil also developed in steps, as visible in the topographic image of the region below.
  • The information is from the European Space Agency.

The lower altitude regions are blue/green and the higher altitude regions are red/brown:

The topography of the north pole of Mars. Image: ESA

These layers are composed of a mixture of dust, water ice and frost that have settled on the Martian soil over time. Each contains valuable information about the history of Mars and can reveal, for example, how the planet's climate has changed over millions of years.

In the Martian winter, everything is covered in dry ice (carbon dioxide ice) a few meters thick, which disappears completely every summer.

Interestingly, in the image below the wrinkled appearance contrasts with the smooth terrain visible on the right, which does not yet show signs of erosion, indicating that the surface is still very young.

Vast swath of rolling sand dunes stretches for hundreds of kilometers. Image: ESA

Between the extremes below are two semicircular cliffs, the largest about 20 km wide. Inside the curves, there are dunes covered in ice:

\The sheer scale of the cliffs is made clear by the dark shadows they cast on the surface below. Its steep, icy walls rise up to a kilometer high. Image: ESA

According to ESA, the cliffs are located in the so-called polar trough, a feature created as wind pushes and erodes the surface. They appear as wavy ridges on the ground and are common in this region.

Mars Express

  • Mars Express has been capturing images of the surface of Mars for almost 21 years to map its minerals and identify the composition and circulation of its atmosphere, as well as help explore how various phenomena interact in the Martian environment.
  • The probe's HRSC, the camera responsible for the images, has revealed much about Mars' diverse surface in recent decades.
  • The photos show everything from wind-sculpted ridges and grooves to colossal volcanoes, craters, tectonic faults, river channels, ancient lava pools and more.


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