NASA’s Mars picture showcases the effects of intense sunlight destabilising frozen soil around the Red Planet’s North Pole. The NASA image shared by the University of Arizona features a dense, rusty cloud rising from the bottom of a steep cliff. Avalanches like this are triggered every year around the start of spring when temperatures are on the rise. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter team referred to this time of the year as “Avalanche Season”.
During Avalanche Season, frozen ice and soil are dislodged from the surface by sunlight falling on Mars.
Dr Candy Hansen from the University of Arizona said: “Every spring the Sun shines on the side of the stack of layers at the North Pole of Mars known as the north polar layered deposits.
“The warmth destabilises the ice and breaks loose.”
The ice then plummets to the bottom of a 1,640ft-tall (500m) cliff, stirring up clouds of dust.
NASA news: This incredible picture shows the aftermath of an avalanche on Mars
The NASA image above shows the top layer of the north polar cap to the lower left of the picture.
The warmth destabilises the ice and breaks loose
Dr Hansen said: “The laters beneath are different colours and textures depending on the amount of dust mixed with ice.”
Avalanches and landslides on Mars are a pretty common phenomenon.
In April this year, NASA shared breathtaking images of blue-tinged landslides in the Cerberus region of Mars, near the Martian volcano Elysium Mons.
Both images were snapped by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) onboard the MRO spacecraft.
HiRISE was built by the Ball Aerospace and Technology Corporation at the University of Arizona for NASA.
The MRO itself is operated by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
The HiRISE instrument snapped the Martian avalanche on May 29 this year at around 1.14pm local time on Mars.
The MRO was launched into space on August 12, 2005, and arrived at the Red Planet on March 10, 2006.
The primary objective of the multipurpose spacecraft is to survey Mars for potential landing spots.
The spacecraft also provides scientists with some of the most stunning orbital images of the planet.
When the spacecraft launched, NASA expected HiRISE to image about one percent of the planet’s surface.
Quick facts about the Red Planet Mars:
1. Mars’ thin atmosphere is made of primarily carbon dioxide and water vapour.
2. Mars sits approximately 142 million miles from the Sun.
3. A single year on Mars lasts approximately 687 Earth days.
4. The Red Planet boasts two moons – Phobos and Deimos.
5. Between Mars and Jupiter is the Asteroid Belt.