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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.

Last modified May 23, 2008 by Randy Russell.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA