NASA astronomers recently published a vibrant new vision of Mars, demonstrating that the Red Planet can also be beautiful in blue.
Researchers captured a thermal photograph of the Martian north pole, digitally colored to highlight the vast range of temperatures there, using a special infrared camera onboard the Mars Odyssey orbiter, which has been soaring over the Red Planet since 2001. According to NASA, areas tinted in blue represent cooler regions, while areas tinted in yellow and orange represent warmer regions.
H̳u̳g̳e̳ sand dunes line up in golden drifts on one side of the pole, warmed by the sun on one side and cooled by the darkness on the other, in this shot, which covers a region of the pole about 19 miles (30 kilometers) across.
According to the writers, this complex scene represents just a small portion of the entire Martian north pole, which spans a region the size of Texas. According to the National Weather Service, the Martian poles are the coldest spots on their surface, with temperatures dropping to minus 220 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 140 degrees Celsius) in winter.
Both of Mars’ poles are permanently capped by water ice, but in the winter, carbon dioxide ice (also known as dry ice) contributes to the cold. (The eerie shapes known as “spiders on Mars” are caused by cracks in the dry ice cover.) Several liquid water reservoirs are still thought to exist underneath the Martian south pole, according to scientists.
The picture above is a combination of multiple Odyssey orbiter images taken between December 2002 and November 2004. It was released on April 8 to commemorate the orbiter’s 20th year in space (the orbiter launched on April 7, 2001). According to NASA, the floating observatory has sent over 1 million thermal photographs of Mars back to Earth since that period.
Odyssey’s eye in the sky has been a blessing for its robotic brethren down below, as well as exposing the possible locations of water ice deposited on the planet; data from Odyssey helped NASA scientists select the optimal spot for deploying the Perseverance rover in February 2021.