Icefield in polar crater
Ice­field in po­lar crater
Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO.

Icefield in polar crater

Wa­ter ice at the bot­tom of a crater near the Mar­tian north pole. In the cen­tre of the crater, which is about 35 kilo­me­tres across, white wa­ter ice stands out clear­ly. The im­pact crater is lo­cat­ed in the north­ern low­land area Vasti­tas Bo­re­alis. Wa­ter ice can re­main in the cen­tre of the crater through­out the year, as the tem­per­a­ture is low enough and at­mo­spher­ic pres­sure is suf­fi­cient to pre­vent sub­li­ma­tion (di­rect tran­si­tion from a sol­id to a gaseous state). At the time of im­age ac­qui­si­tion (lat­er sum­mer on Mars), car­bon diox­ide ice had al­ready dis­ap­peared from the en­tire north­ern po­lar cap, leav­ing on­ly wa­ter ice. The thick­ness of the ice is prob­a­bly on­ly in the decime­tre range. This has been con­firmed by some ear­li­er mea­sure­ments. Copy­right note: As a joint un­der­tak­ing by DLR, ESA and FU Berlin, the Mars Ex­press HRSC im­ages are pub­lished un­der a Cre­ative Com­mons li­cence since De­cem­ber 2014: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO. This li­cence will al­so ap­ply to all HRSC im­ages re­leased to date.

Discoveries made during previous missions to Mars have shown that, before a climate change about 3000 million years ago, this was a warm and humid planet. Mars Express obtains information about the history of the Red Planet’s climate by carrying out global reconnaissance from orbit. This should clarify questions relating to the existence of water on the planet and how long it was there, if at all. It is hoped that by using comparative planetology, scientists will be able to establish parallels between Mars and Earth, allowing them for example to make more accurate statements about the long-term development of our own planet.

The Mars Express Orbiter's tasks:

  • globally map the surface of Mars, both topographically and morphologically, with a nominal resolution of 10 metres in all three dimensions, and take telephoto images with a resolution of up to 2 metres
  • create geological and mineralogical maps by taking multi-coloured images
  • analyse atmospheric processes and composition
  • study the subterranean structure (particularly in the search of permafrost)
  • study the interaction between the planet's surface and the atmosphere
  • study the interaction between the atmosphere and the interplanetary medium

The Beagle 2 lander was designed to:

  • study the meteorology and climatology of the planet
  • investigate the geology, mineralogy and geochemistry at the landing site
  • analyse the physical properties of the atmosphere and surface layers
  • look for traces of life (exobiology)

The Beagle 2 landing spacecraft has been declared lost.

  • Elke Heinemann
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)

    Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and Me­dia Re­la­tions
    Telephone: +49 2203 601-2867
    Linder Höhe
    51147 Cologne
  • Ulrich Köhler
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)
    In­sti­tute of Plan­e­tary Re­search
    Rutherfordstraße 2
    12489 Berlin

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