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Cryptic Terrain on Mars
There is an enigmatic region near the south pole of Mars known as the "cryptic" terrain. It stays cold in the spring, even as its albedo darkens and the sun rises in the sky.
This region is covered by a layer of translucent seasonal carbon dioxide ice that warms and evaporates from below. As carbon dioxide gas escapes from below the slab of seasonal ice it scours dust from the surface. The gas vents to the surface, where the dust is carried downwind by the prevailing wind.
The channels carved by the escaping gas are often radially organized and are known informally as "spiders." (1)
(1) › Visit HiRISE site for higher resolution image (tiff)
Image PSP_003179_0945 was taken by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft on 01-Apr-2007. The complete image is centered at -85.4 degrees latitude, 104.0 degrees East longitude. The range to the target site was 245.9 km (153.7 miles). At this distance the image scale is 49.2 cm/pixel (with 2 x 2 binning) so objects ~148 cm across are resolved. The image shown here has been map-projected to 50 cm/pixel . The image was taken at a local Mars time of 06:19 PM and the scene is illuminated from the west with a solar incidence angle of 78 degrees, thus the sun was about 12 degrees above the horizon. At a solar longitude of 210.8 degrees, the season on Mars is Northern Autumn.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona