Mars Express finds winter wonderland in space

While we’ve been busy on Earth with Christmas festivities, the Mars Express satellite has been photographing its own winter wonderland, beaming its shots of a permanent ice formation on the red planet back to us in time for the holidays.

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The satellite has been taking shots of the Korolev crater, which measures roughly 50 miles in diameter and is over one mile deep.

The Mars Express compiled the picture of the crater by collecting five individual images known as ‘strips’. Each strip follows one complete orbit of Mars. The spacecraft took the images using its High Resolution Stereo Camera, which is able to pick out features on the surface of the red rocked planet as small as 10 metres wide.

Ice has been found at the polar caps of Mars already, however the Korolev crater remains Mars’ unique snowflake, as its ice remains intact year round. Although less noticeable than on Earth, Mars does have seasons. These seasons work in a similar way to our planet, providing warmer and colder periods throughout the year, with the warmer seasons usually melting parts of the ice found on Mars.

Korolev doesn’t fall subject to such changes, however, due to a phenomenon called ‘cold trap’. Cold trap consists of a thin layer of air resting above the ice. The air is cooled by the ice, and then remains above it, acting as an insulator. This protects the frozen contents of the crater when the seasons come to change, resulting in a winter wonderland – but all year round.

Essentially, if Buddy The Elf could live anywhere other than the North Pole, it would be the Korolev crater, probably.

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The Korolev crater gets it name from the Russian scientist and spacecraft designer Sergei Korolev. Dubbed the father of Soviet space tech, Korolev worked on numerous famous space missions for Russia, including world-famous Sputnik.

The Mars Express satellite entered Mars’ orbit on 25 December 2003, meaning that this Christmas will mark the 15 year anniversary of its time circling our planetary neighbour.

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