An avalanche on Mars, as it happens

Please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar to the right. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.

Avalanche on Mars

Cool image time! In their routine monitoring for avalanches at the layered deposits at the Martian north pole, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter science team captured the avalanche on the right, as it happened.

This picture managed to capture a small avalanche in progress, right in the color strip. … The small white cloud in front of the brick red cliff is likely carbon dioxide frost dislodged from the layers above, caught in the act of cascading down the cliff. It is larger than it looks, more than 20 meters across, and (based on previous examples) it will likely kick up clouds of dust when it hits the ground.

They note that avalanches in this area of Mars are common in the spring when things are warming, and have been documented previously, but possibly not so dramatically.


  • danae

    The resolution of the image is fantastic. Is that a pool of liquid at the base of the rock formation? It appears to be reflecting the image of the frost crystals.

  • Gealon

    In the wider image it looks like that seemingly reflective area is in fact just a lower elevation on which the CO2 frost/snow has fallen. The position of the apparent reflection is as far as I can tell just a coincidence and looks to just be a variation in the color of the fallen frost/snow. I too thought it was a reflection it first though, hence why I went to the larger image.

    It’s still a nice shot though.

  • danae

    Yes, looking at the wider image, I’m sure you’re right. There must be a lower rock ledge catching the falling frost. Thank you for pointing that out. These Orbiter images are fascinating, and so detailed, it’s still slightly startling to realize we’re looking at the surface of Mars.

  • Edward

    Danae wrote: “it’s still slightly startling to realize we’re looking at the surface of Mars.”

    If only Giovanni Schiaparelli or Percival Lowell could have lived long enough to see the pictures that we get to see!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *