Is there life on Mars? We’re much closer to answering that question now than we were when David Bowie first asked it in 1971. One thing is now beautifully certain, as these images show. There is ice on the planet. And the European Space Agency’s Mars Express has sent back some terrific images that show an ice-filled comet crater that is 50 miles wide.
The close up of the Korolev crater shows a 50 mile wide hole on the northern lowlands.
“The ever-icy presence is due to a phenomenon known as a ‘cold trap’ caused by the crater’s floor lying two kilometres vertically beneath its rim,” Daily Mail writes.
The cold air sinks below the rim of the crater. A air moves over the crater, it cools and sinks, settling over the ice. The process insulates the ice below and keeps it from thawing.
The ESA says Korolev is “an especially well-preserved example of a martian crater.”
The ice is estimated to be about a mile and a half thick. “This domed deposit forms a glacier comprising around 528 cubic miles of non-polar ice on Mars,” Daily Mail adds.
To take these images, the Mars Express High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) was flown over the crater on five separate orbital passes. These were then combined to form the larger image seen here.
“The image strips acquired from different angles by the HRSC camera system on board Mars Express are used to generate digital terrain models of the Martian surface, containing height information for each recorded pixel. The colour coding of the digital terrain model indicates the elevation differences effectively: the topographical profile of the region covers approximately 3500 metres of elevation.”
Korolev, the crater’s namesake, is considered by many to be the “father of Soviet space technology.”
“Korolev worked on a number of well-known missions including the Sputnik program – the first artificial satellites ever sent into orbit around the Earth, in 1957 and the years following, the Vostok and Vokshod programs of human space exploration (Vostok being the spacecraft that carried the first ever human, Yuri Gagarin, into space in 1961) as well as the first interplanetary missions to the Moon, Mars, and Venus.”
The Mars Express is orbiting the planet looking for gases that could be used to learn more about the composition of the planet.
“We transmitted new software to the instrument at the start of the test phase and after a couple of minor issues, the instrument is in good health and ready to work,” Nicolas Thomas from the University of Bern in Switzerland said. Thomas operates the camera.
“We were really pleased to see how good this picture was given the lighting conditions,” says Antoine Pommerol, one of the team members crunching the data.
“It shows that CaSSIS can make a major contribution to studies of the carbon dioxide and water cycles on Mars.”