Mars, which we have often seen in photographs of rovers and orbiters, is dry, dusty and barren, but there are parts of the planet that, if looked at separately, might lead you to believe that you are consider completely foreign country. The latest snapshot taken by the ExoMars trace gas orbiter fits perfectly with this latter category.
The image was taken with the CaSSIS camera, one of the orbiter's many instruments, and shows the frosty dunes that cover the northern Martian region rarely seen at close quarters. It definitely looks a bit like ice cream with biscuit flavor.
As the European Space Agency explains in a post emphasizing the photo, the dark areas are free of cracks and gaps in the ice that form when gas trapped beneath it is released. When the gas dissolves, it carries dust and sand and covers the edges of the cracks with the darker material.
Similar to dunes seen on Earth, the flowing forms that form on the surface of Mars are carved by the wind. As the ESA explains, the shapes we see in this particular image can tell scientists much about the surface processes:
The image also captures "Barchan" dunes ̵1; the crescent-shaped or U-shaped dunes to the right of image – when they unite and turn into barchanoid ridges. The curved tops of the Barchan dunes point against the wind. The transition from Barchan to Barchanoid dunes shows that secondary winds also play a role in shaping the dune field.
Despite the fact that humans are apparently destined to explore the Red Planet sooner rather than later, places like this one have probably not won the first on the list for these early travelers. For now, we only have to enjoy the view from the top.