This Ice Cliff is One of the Few Places With Exposed Water ice in the Mid-Latitudes on Mars. It’s Probably Tens of Millions of Years old

An icy cliff face on Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UArizona.

Because of the orbiters and landers that have studied Mars over the years, scientists have learned that water ice is very likely locked away just under the surface throughout the planet’s mid-latitudes. These regions – especially in the northern hemisphere — are mostly covered with smooth material and scientists suspect ice is just underneath.

But sometimes, images like this give one from the HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, provides a glimpse of the ice that might be buried below the surface. This image shows a cliff jutting out of the normally smooth terrain, and the cliff is covered with bright ice.

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This Bizarre Terrain on Mars is Caused by Water Ice and Carbon Dioxide

Spring fans and polygons on Mars, as seen by the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UArizona.

From orbit, this landscape on Mars looks like a lacy honeycomb or a spider web. But the unusual polygon-shaped features aren’t created by Martian bees or spiders; they are actually formed from a ongoing process of seasonal change from created from water ice and carbon dioxide.

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This is a Dust Avalanche on Mars

HiRISE Spots Slope Streaks Fanning Out on Mars Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UArizona

For decades, scientists have observed dark landslides called slope streaks on Mars. First seen by the Viking orbiters in the 1970s, every orbiter mission since has observed them, but the mechanism behind the slope streaks has been hotly debated: could they be caused by water activity on the Red Planet, or are they the result of some sort of dry mechanics?

Turns out, the leading candidate is “dry.” But scientists with the Mars Odyssey mission have verified an additional culprit behind the slope streaks: carbon dioxide frost.

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Here’s Perseverance, Seen From Space

The white speck in the middle of this image is the Perseverance rover, as seen by the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

The Mars Perseverance rover is on the move! The HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spotted the rover from above, the first view since shortly after the rover landed in February 2021. Perseverance appears as the white speck in the center of the image above, in the the “South Séítah” area of Mars’ Jezero Crater.

The HiRISE team said the rover is about 700 meters (2,300 feet) from its original landing site.

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Machine Learning Software is Now Doing the Exhausting Task of Counting Craters On Mars

The tiny black speck in the lower left corner of this image within the red circle is a cluster of recently formed craters spotted on Mars using a new machine-learning algorithm. This image was taken by the Context Camera aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in a region called Noctis Fossae, located at latitude -3.213, longitude: 259.415. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Does the life of an astronomer or planetary scientists seem exciting?

Sitting in an observatory, sipping warm cocoa, with high-tech tools at your disposal as you work diligently, surfing along on the wavefront of human knowledge, surrounded by fine, bright people. Then one day—Eureka!—all your hard work and the work of your colleagues pays off, and you deliver to humanity a critical piece of knowledge. A chunk of knowledge that settles a scientific debate, or that ties a nice bow on a burgeoning theory, bringing it all together. Conferences…tenure…Nobel Prize?

Well, maybe in your first year of university you might imagine something like that. But science is work. And as we all know, not every minute of one’s working life is super-exciting and gratifying.

Sometimes it can be dull and repetitious.

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Sediments on Mars, Created By Blowing Wind or Flowing Water

The HiRISE Picture of the Day from May 9th 2020. Sedimentary rocks in and impact crater on Mars. Image Credit: NASA/JPL/UArizona

The HiRISE (High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) instrument on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has given us a steady stream of images of the Martian surface. It’s been in orbit around Mars since March 2006, and has greatly outlived its intended mission length.

One of the latest Hi-PODs, or HiRISE Pictures of the Day, is this one, of sedimentary rock on Mars being eroded away.

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Dust Devils Have Left Dark Streaks All Over This Martian Crater

HiPOD from February 16th 2020 showing dust devil trails in a Martian crater. Image Credit: NASA/JPL/UArizona

There may be no life on Mars, but there’s still a lot going on there. The Martian surface is home to different geological process, which overlap and even compete with each other to shape the planet. Orbiters with powerful cameras give us an excellent view of Mars’ changing surface.

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Ever Wondered What Final Approach To Mars Might Feel Like?

Layered deposits in Uzboi Vallis on Mars, as seen by the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona.

We’ve posted several ‘flyover’ videos of Mars that use data from spacecraft. But this video might be the most spectacular and realistic. Created by filmmaker Jan Fröjdman from Finland, “A Fictive Flight Above Real Mars” uses actual data from the venerable HiRISE camera on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and takes you on a 3-D tour over steep cliffs, high buttes, amazing craters, polygons and other remarkable land forms. But Fröjdman also adds a few features reminiscent of the landing videos taken by the Apollo astronauts. Complete with crosshatches and thruster firings, this video puts you on final approach to land on (and then take off from) Mars’ surface.

(Hit ‘fullscreen’ for the best viewing)

To create the video, Fröjdman used 3-D anaglyph images from HiRISE (High Resolution Science Imaging Experiment), which contain information about the topography of Mars surface and then processed the images into panning video clips.

Fröjdman told Universe Today he worked on this video for about three months.

“The most time consuming was to manually pick the more than 33,000 reference points in the anaglyph images,” he said via email. “Now when I count how many steps there were in total in the process, I come to seven and I needed at least 6 different kinds of software.”

A new impact crater that was formed between July 2010 and May 2012, as seen by the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. This image is part of “A Fictive Flight Above Real Mars” by Jan Fröjdman. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona.

Fröjdman, a landscape photographer and audiovisual expert, said he wanted to create a video that gives you the feeling “that you are flying above Mars looking down watching interesting locations on the planet,” he wrote on Vimeo. “And there are really great places on Mars! I would love to see images taken by a landscape photographer on Mars, especially from the polar regions. But I’m afraid I won’t see that kind of images during my lifetime.”

Between HiRISE and the Curiosity rover images, we have the next best thing to a human on Mars. But maybe one day…

Fröjdman has previously posted other space-related videos, including video and images of the Transit of Venus in 2012 he took from an airplane, and a lunar eclipse in 2011.

A FICTIVE FLIGHT ABOVE REAL MARS from Jan Fröjdman on Vimeo.