Spectacular New Images Show Enormous Glacier On Mars

Mars' south pole and beyond. ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO.

The Mars Express usually devotes its time to taking glorious, top-down photos of Mars' surface. However, it decided to spice things up a bit with a sweeping panorama over the planet's surface, including the southern polar ice cap. This white patch on the surface definitely looks out of place on the dusty, red surface.

This photo was taken on February 25th by the European Space Agency's Mars Express. Usually, the orbiter is positioned 300 kilometers (186 miles) above the surface. However, for this photo the camera was located 9,900 kilometers (6,151 miles) up, which allowed it to view the planet from one side to the other. 

There is a range of visual delights to be spotted in this image, including the frozen water and carbon dioxide ice cap in white. This ice cap changes shape depending on the season, much like our own ice caps. The mid-section of the image contains the planet's "highlands." Impact craters are peppered over the surface, some of them overlapping. 

Inside some of these craters are dark, dusty deposits. These are the remnants of debris and dust that have been whipped over the surface and have settled in the pockmarks. 

Towards the top left is a small portion of the Hellas impact basin. This basin is a whopping 2,200 kilometers (1,367 miles) across and goes down to a depth of 8 kilometers (5 miles). 

Some of the hazy regions in the upper part of the photo are attributed to clouds. Unlike Earth, which has an atmosphere of nitrogen and oxygen, Mars' atmosphere is composed of mostly carbon dioxide and a bit of water vapor.

It's a beautiful shot of the Martian surface, although the warm colors make it easy to forget that the average surface temperature is actually a chilly -63°C (-81°​F).

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