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Frosty Beauty of Winter on Mars

Late winter has arrived on Mars’s Northern Hemisphere, and NASA recently released images of the season captured by its Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The frosty scenes are a foreign-yet-familiar display of beauty.


Like Earth, the Red Planet experiences snow and frost and is home to water ice. So, in a way, its winters look like ours. But that’s about where the resemblance stops.


In a Martian winter, the planet’s average temperature - already a frozen minus 80 degrees Fahrenheit - plunges to 190 below. In this bone-chilling weather, the Red Planet also hosts a second kind of ice made from carbon dioxide, known as dry ice.


Mars's south pole
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / University of Arizona

Year-round ice at Mars's south pole contrasts from the colored walls of flat-floored pits. The smallest of these pits, at the center, is the size of a stadium on Earth.

 
Dry ice on Mars
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / University of Arizona

The freezing of water ice and sublimation of dry ice create these patterns on Mars's ground. Geysers of sun-warmed gas and dust are shown in blue in this enhanced-color image.

 
Frost-capped sand dunes on Mars
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / University of Arizona

Frost-capped sand dunes near Mars's north pole, captured by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter two days after the planet's winter solstice.

 
Martian dunes covered with carbon dioxide frost and ice
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / University of Arizona

These "megadunes," or barchans, are covered with carbon dioxide frost and ice. Sublimating ice reveals areas of darker sand.


 
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