Mars or a bacterial cell?

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Mars's southern polar regions

Cool image time! The image on the right, reduced and cropped to show here, was taken by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and shows just one spot in Mars’s southern polar regions. The surface only looks like bacteria because the basic structure of both is based on fractals. Scientists call this area “swiss-cheese terrain” because of the many holes that have opened up there.

The texture is very alien, bearing more of a resemblance to the universe of the very small, rather than the universe far, far away. But if this is a polar cap, then why does it not look like the polar caps on Earth? Indeed, there is no equivalent terrain observed here on Earth.

The so-called “Swiss cheese terrain,” referencing the numerous holes of the region, is a product of seasonal exchange between the surface and the Martian atmosphere. With a predominantly carbon dioxide content at 98 percent, the colder temperatures condense the gas out of the atmosphere to produce dry ice. The prevalence of water is more concentrated in the north, leaving the South polar region more carbon dioxide rich, and it’s this difference in composition that generates the unusual texture of the Swiss cheese terrain.

Be sure and take a look at the full resolution image. It is quite wild.


One comment

  • Max

    How very unusual, and yet beautiful. It’s too bad the polar lander failed on entry, I would be curious to learn if the landscape is full of ice caverns. NASA may try again soon…
    There has been news of the south polar cap melting the past three years…. So I looked it up.
    Planum Australe (Mars South Pole) faces the sun during its short 4 month summer near perihelion. (128 million miles) Since Mars is tilted slightly more than the earth, the temperatures at the south pole are more extreme than the north during its winter and summer. At aphelion (154 million miles) The Southpoint faces away from the sun for six months. With combination of the land mass being 3-6km higher than the north gives it extremely cold temperatures of near -200 degrees F. (The frost point of carbon dioxide is -193°F)
    Both caps grow and shrink every Martian year. It is estimated from 60° southward the frost grows as much as 3 feet thick of CO2 and H2O yearly. SHARAD ice penetrating radar revealed a subsurface CO2 deposit equal to 80% of the Mars current atmosphere in the south pole. Translation: the south pole will be around for quite a while yet.
    The carbon dioxide on the north pole evaporators completely dissipating leaving the H2O ice behind making a 3 km high plateau. The borealis basin (North pole) is 3 to 6 Km lower in altitude than the south. Higher air pressure means it is slightly warmer then the Southern Hemisphere except on top of the plateau. ( just like earths south pole, 3 miles of ice puts the temperature at the top of the continent at 40° below zero in the summertime average. The north pole, at sea level, averages above freezing all summer.

    Hellas Planitia impact basin is the third or fourth largest crater in the solar system. It is over 4 miles deep and 1,400 miles across. (between the rim and the bottom is 5.6 miles) The bottom of this crater has twice the air pressure of Mars datum. (normal average) 12.4mbar. That’s enough pressure to have liquid water at 33°F.
    I would bet it is also the warmest, on average, place on Mars…

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