Martian South Pole Carbon Dioxide Ice Cap Shapeshifts Every Chance It Gets

The same Mars South Pole mesas, eight years apart 6 photos
Photo: NASA/JPL/UArizona
Icy cap at Mars’ South PoleThe same Mars South Pole mesas, eight years apartOblique perspective view of the South Pole of MarsCoalescing pits and smooth-topped mesasLayers of Mars’s south polar cap
It may seem a completely alien place, but Mars has (or at least had) a lot of things in common with Earth. OK, maybe not necessarily with Earth alone, but with all the other celestial bodies we know of to be governed by the same processes and laws.
With humans eyeing the Red Planet as the next destination of our exploration efforts, the place is constantly being kept under the microscope, both from the ground and from high up in orbit, in a bid to better understand it before going there and, who knows, colonizing the place.

The pair of images you see as the main photo of this piece are two of the many sent back over the years by the HiRISE camera fitted onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. They were taken over the past few years and brought back into the spotlight last month by NASA and the University of Arizona, who run the space camera, to show us Martian landscape shapeshifts too in time.

You’re looking at two images of the same region taken eight years apart, the first one dating back to August 2007, and the other to March 2015. Both show the same South Pole area with high-standing mesas, but looking entirely different.

Scientists blame the change in shape and size of the mesas on the fact that carbon dioxide ice gets continuously sublimated (direct transition from the solid state to vapor), and then deposited onto the flat areas. This process reshapes and shrinks the mesas to the point where they’re no longer recognizable from their former selves.

These particular stills of the alien world have been taken from an altitude of 245 km (152 miles) and prove once more, if proof was needed, that Mars is still a very active planet, and one that could end up surprising us once we get there.
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Editor's note: Gallery shows various instances of the Martian South Pole.

About the author: Daniel Patrascu
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Daniel loves writing (or so he claims), and he uses this skill to offer readers a "behind the scenes" look at the automotive industry. He also enjoys talking about space exploration and robots, because in his view the only way forward for humanity is away from this planet, in metal bodies.
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