Tag Archives: avalanches

An avalanche on Mars, as it happens

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.

Avalanches on Mars

Saturday’s weekly dump of publications from the American Geophysical Union also included a paper that showed visual proof of avalanches on Mars! In this case, the location is Russell Crater, “a large crater in the southern hemisphere that exposes a large dune field in its center.” The avalanches occur because a frost layer made up of dry ice and a little bit of frozen water builds up on the crest of the dunes. When that frost melts, dark streaks about three to six feet wide and about 150 feet long appear, flowing downhill. The scientists believe these are avalanches made up of “a mixing of sand, dust, and unstable CO2 gas.”

wide shot of before and after
Before and after shots of the dark streaks flowing down the dune.

close-up, before and after
Close-ups of the streaks, before and after.