This is a picture of the ice cap at the North Pole on Mars. This picture was shot from Mars orbit in 1999 by a spacecraft called Mars Global Surveyor. The white regions are water ice. The ice cap is about 1,100 km (680 miles) across. Light brown areas are a mix of ice and dust and are called "polar layered terrain". Dark brown areas around the ice cap are sand dunes. There is a big canyon in the ice cap on the left side of the picture; it is called Chasma Boreale. It was summer in the northern part of Mars when this picture was taken.
Click on image for full size
Image courtesy of NASA/JPL/ Malin Space Science Systems.
The North Pole of Mars
The North Pole of Mars has a large ice cap on it. The ice cap is mostly made of water ice. In the winter, carbon dioxide from the atmosphere freezes and deposits a layer of dry ice (frozen CO2) on top of the ice cap and the surrounding terrain. The polar cap grows much larger in area in the winter because of this. When summer returns, warm temperatures cause the dry ice to sublimate away, and the polar cap shrinks in size.
The northern ice cap is about 1,100 km (680 miles) across. It has a huge canyon, called Chasma Boreale, slicing through it. The edge of the ice cap is surrounded by "polar layered terrain", a series of layers of ice and dust. The ground throughout the polar regions appears to have lots of ice in or under the soil, like permafrost on Earth. Winds caused by temperature differences between the ice cap and its surrounding blow throughout the polar regions. They carve interesting grooves into the ice cap, and build up sand dunes in areas around the pole.
In May 2008, a NASA spacecraft called the Phoenix Mars Lander will land near the North Pole on Mars. Phoenix will dig into the Martian soil, searching for water ice.
Just as you might expect, the two poles of Mars are the coldest places on the planet. Wintertime temperatures dip down to a frigid -150° C (about -238° F). The South Pole of Mars also has an ice cap.
Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!
Our online store
includes issues of NESTA's quarterly journal, The Earth Scientist
, full of classroom activities on different topics in Earth and space science, as well as books
on science education!
You might also be interested in:
The Mariner 7 spacecraft took the first pictures of the South Pole of Mars. The south polar region is part of the highlands of Mars. The southern highlands of Mars are mostly old, cratered terrain and...more
The Phoenix Mars Lander was a robot spacecraft that was sent to Mars. Phoenix landed near the North Pole on Mars. This page tells about the mission of Phoenix. It also describes the instruments on the...more
Isidis Planitia is a flat plain inside a very old crater on Mars. Isidis Planitia is about 1500 km (930 miles) across. It is just north of the equator on Mars on the eastern side of the Red Planet. The...more
Gusev Crater is an impact crater on Mars that looks as though a lake may have once filled it in the distant past. One of the two Mars Exploration Rovers (MER) will explore Gusev Crater beginning in January...more
Meridiani Planum is the name of a plain on Mars. One of the Mars Exploration Rovers, named Opportunity, landed there. Meridiani Planum is very flat. "Planum" means "plain". Meridiani Planum is near the...more
Unlike the Earth, where clouds are found around the entire globe, on Mars, clouds seem to be plentiful only in the equatorial region, as shown in this Hubble telescope image. This may be because water...more
The Martian ionosphere is a layer of gas that is very high up above Mars and is composed of ions and electrons. It extends from about 75 miles up to several hundred miles up above the surface. It is shown...more