Mars is famous for its polar ice caps, consisting of water ice and carbon dioxide ice, which stand out strongly from the surrounding rust-colored terrain. But there is also plenty of ice outside the main ice caps of Mars, even underground. One picture in particular shows a beautiful example of such an icy Martian landscape – an "iced pond" in a crater near the North Pole, which is very suitable for this season in the northern hemispheres of Earth and Mars. That's right … it's winter now in the northern hemisphere of Mars. The Martian northern winter solstice came on October 16, 2018 (Mars seasonal calendar here).
The European Space Agency (ESA) acquired the image above and some other images on this page about their Mars Express orbiter. The one above shows what at first glance looks like an untouched Martian snow image, but the bright white element is actually water ice filling the Korolev crater of Mars. The roundish ice hummock is captured in exquisite details; Note the smaller ice sheets that fill in crevices on the rugged edge of the crater rim. ESA published the picture on 20 December 2018.
The Korolev crater is about 82 km away and is located in the northern lowlands of Mars, south of Olympia Undae – an area that is partially surrounded by dunes of the North Pole. The picture shows a stunning oblique view of the crater, which consists of five different stripes, which are combined into a larger single image. Each strip was received by Mars Express during another orbit. There are also contextual and topographical views of the crater.
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The ice that fills the crater remains large all year round – the central ice hummock has a thickness of 1.8 km. The crater acts as a cold trap in which the air cools and sinks as it moves over the ice, creating a layer of cold air that lies directly above the ice. This cold layer keeps the ice stable and prevents it from evaporating or sublimating. The crater itself is quite deep, the crater floor is about 2 km below the crater rim.
The Krolev Crater has also recently been partially mapped by the ESA Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), part of the ExoMars mission. TGO arrived on Mars last spring to search the Martian atmosphere for trace gases – tiny amounts of certain gases like methane.
Ice is common on Mars – both on the surface and underground – including both water ice and carbon dioxide ice. NASA's Phoenix Lander buried itself in 2008 in the frozen surface near the North Pole and examined some of the water travel directly, just a few inches below the surface. Phoenix also observed snow in the atmosphere, though he did not reach the bottom. So it's snow on Mars, but it never gathers enough to go skiing or tobogganing. On the other hand, ice-filled craters like Korolev could be the ideal skating rink for some future Martians!
The Korolev Crater was named Orbit on December 25th of the same year after Sergei Korolev, a leading rocket engineer and spacecraft designer named as the father of Soviet space technology – 15 years ago this week!
For more information about Mars Express, visit the mission website.
Conclusion: The "frozen pond" in the Korolev crater is a good example of this The cold, icy terrain on Mars is reminiscent of similar places on earth – a winter wonderland from Marsland.