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Upper Surface of Icy Layers Covering Mars' South Polar Region
Multi-colored topographical map of the Martian region from the south pole to about 75 degrees south latitude indicates the contours of the surface, including the top surface of the polar layered deposits.

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This map shows the topography of the south polar region of Mars. The data were collected by the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter aboard NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor orbiter between 1997 and 2001. The elevation of the terrain is shown by colors, with purple and blue representing the lowest areas, and orange and red the highest. The total range of elevation shown is about 5 kilometers (3 miles). The black line shows the boundary of the south polar layered deposits, an ice-rich geologic unit that was probed by the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionospheric Sounding (MARSIS) aboard the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter.

The radar data indicate that the deposit is more than 3.7 kilometers (2.3 miles) thick in places, and that the material consists of nearly pure water ice, with only a small component of dust. The MARSIS team also determined that the total volume of ice in the layered deposits is equivalent to a water layer 11 meters (36 feet) deep, if spread evenly across the planet. The boundary of the layered deposits was mapped by scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey. The dark circle in the upper center is the area poleward of 87 degrees south latitude, where MARSIS data cannot be collected. The image covers an area 1,670 by 1,800 kilometers (1,035 by 1,115 miles).

MARSIS is an instrument on the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter. NASA and the Italian Space Agency jointly funded the instrument. The Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter flew on NASA's Mars Global Surveyor orbiter.

Image credit: NASA/JPL/ASI/ESA/Univ. of Rome/MOLA Science Team/USGS