From Earth to the Solar System: Mars

LIFE IN ICE? Chasma Boreale is a long valley that cuts deep into the north polar icecap of Mars. Where the ice cap has retreated, sand from earlier, ice-free climate cycles is exposed that winds have shaped into dunes. In 2007, NASA’s Phoenix mission landed in the northern arctic plains of Mars to study the history of water and potential habitability in the ice-rich soil. Phoenix verified the presence of water ice in the Martian sub-surface, and found calcium carbonate, an indicator of a less acidic (more potentially habitable) planet in the past. Phoenix even observed snow falling from clouds in the Martian atmosphere! This eerily Earth-like vista was made by combining data from NASA’s Mars Odyssey and Global Surveyor orbiters. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Arizona State University, Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS)

WATERING HOLE: The European Space Agency’s Mars Express obtained this view of an unnamed impact crater located on Vastitas Borealis, a broad plain that covers much of Mars’s far northern latitudes. The circular patch of bright material located at the center of the crater is residual water ice. The colors are very close to natural, but the vertical relief is exaggerated three times. This patch of ice is present all year round, remaining after frozen carbon dioxide overlaying it disappears during the Martian Summer. Image Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum)

Posted: 28 September 2011
About the Author:

Alex di Giovanni has been editing The Torch since August 2006. Prior to joining the Smithsonian, she worked as a writer and editor for the National Geographic Society, Plexus Scientific, The Nature Conservancy, The National Foreign Language Center and St. Martin’s Press, among others. She has the best job in the world.