The most powerful camera ever sent to another planet has snapped a mesmerizing picture of a bizarre springtime phenomenon on Mars, which paints the red planet with dramatic bright fans of dry ice that erupt from vents in its polar regions.
This patterned alien landscape was imaged in March by NASA’s High Resolution Imaging Experiment (HIRISE), onboard its Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The terrain has been sculpted into these polygons by water ice that is frozen into the soil at the planet’s high latitudes. The borders of these shapes, which stretch like white stitches across the Martian surface, are further frayed during springtime by ice transforming directly from a solid to a gas, a process called sublimation, which produces blasts of dry ice.
HiRISE’s image captured the fallout of these icy blasts, and the dark surface particles within them, which are carried by the winds in different directions. As the particles fall, they leave these characteristic fans on the terrain. Some vents produce multiple different streaks that reveal the direction of the wind at different times, according to a Monday statement about the picture from the University of Arizona, which built HiRISE.
HiRISE first arrived at Mars in 2006 and has taken many stunning images of these polygonal polar regions of Mars. In addition, the advanced camera has snapped pictures of other strange Martian features, including an avalanche, the planet’s “chaos” terrain, and even NASA’s rovers at the surface.