Amazing Video Of Mars North Pole Zooms In On Polar Ice Cap 1,000 Kilometers In Diameter [VIDEO]

By Rhonda J. Miller on December 16, 2013 10:02 AM EST

The Martian North Pole, with a polar ice cap of about 1,000 kilometers in diameter, is spotlighted in a new animation from the European Space Agency's Mars Express. The ice cap consists of thin layers of ice mixed with dust that goes about two kilometers below the cap. A gap in the ice cap is a chasm called Chasma Boreale, according to the European Space Agency.

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The polar ice cap shown in the video was constructed using data from the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionospheric Sounding instrument, also known by the acronym "MARSIS." Low-frequency radio waves beamed toward the surface are reflected back to Mars Express from the planet's surface and from interfaces between layers of different materials underground. The strength and timing of the radar echoes gauge the depths of different types of interfaces, such as between rock, water, or ice

The north polar layered deposits are layers of dusty ice up to two miles thick and approximately 620 miles in diameter, according to NASA.

The layers of the North Pole of Mars consist of dusty ice up to two miles thick and about 620 miles in diamater, according to NASA. This was imaged by the HiRISE camera onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. HiRISE is the most powerful camera of its kind ever sent to another planet.  Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
The layers of the North Pole of Mars consist of dusty ice up to two miles thick and about 620 miles in diamater, according to NASA. This was imaged by the HiRISE camera onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. HiRISE is the most powerful camera of its kind ever sent to another planet. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Scientists think that the north polar layered deposits likely formed millions of years ago as rhythmic variations in Mars' orbit changed the distribution of water ice around the planet. As ice moved to and from the polar region in response to a changing climate, layers of ice and dust built up at the poles. By studying the history of these deposits, scientists hope to understand how the Martian climate has changed, similar to how scientists on Earth study ice cores from the North and South Poles, according to NASA.

NASA scientists noted three immediately apparent elements of the exposed layers. The individual layers have different surface textures, which some scientists believe could reflect changing physical properties, such as dust content or ice grain. The NASA scientists also noted several unconformities, or places where one layer is interrupted and overlain by another layer. These unconformities are due to periods where layers were eroded or removed, followed by times when new layers were deposited. Mapping the locations of unconformities can reveal how the deposit shrank and grew over time and show where large changes in climate occurred, causing water ice to be removed from the polar regions. Also seen in the NASA images are dark and bright streaks, which are due to winds blowing surface frost around, providing information about wind patterns in the current polar climate.

Scientists will examine the high resolution views of Mars now available to gather information to assist future missions in choosing a safe spot to land for exploration, according to NASA, which is a partner in the Mars Express project.

MARSIS was funded by NASA and the Italian Space Agency and developed by the University of Rome, Italy, in partnership with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Italy provided the instrument's digital processing system and integrated the parts. The University of Iowa in Iowa City built the transmitter for the instrument, JPL built the receiver and Astro Aerospace, Carpinteria, Calif., built the antenna. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Mars Express is a consortium of 24 companies from 15 European countries and the U.S. The prime contractor is Astrium ofToulouse, France, according to the European Space Agency

The European Space Agency's video Mars 360: The North Pole is from the ESA's Mars Express. It was released Sept. 12, 2013

 

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