Time for some cool images! In one of their periodic captioned releases of an interesting high resolution image, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) science team this week released a picture of the strange “swiss cheese” terrain found throughout the Martian southern polar cap. (I have already highlighted in an early post the spiders that form in the south pole as the carbon dioxide evaporates.) The image to the right is a cropped section of that image, which you can see in its entirety if you click on it.
The South Polar residual cap is composed of carbon dioxide ice that persists through each Martian summer. However, it is constantly changing shape.
The slopes get more direct illumination at this polar location, so they warm up and sublimate, going directly from a solid state to a gaseous state. The gas then re-condenses as frost over flat areas, building new layers as the older layers are destroyed.
The captioned link above also included a link to a gif animation showing how this terrain has changed since 2009. The holes have become bigger, their cliffs retreating with time.
The section I highlight above not only shows the retreating swiss cheese dry ice, you can also see ghosts of several buried craters slowly becoming visible as the dry ice evaporates away.
This is only one of many images taken of the south pole by MRO. In the October archive release, I found almost two dozen, and that’s only the images taken during August of this summer. MRO takes images of the south pole regularly to track its changes, though I suspect it took more this summer because the global dust storm blocked imagery in the middle latitudes. Below and to the right is just one of these images, a particularly good illustration of the swiss cheese formation.
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