This image of the European Space Agency's Mars Express satellite shows the Korolev crater, located near the north pole of Mars. The coordinates of the crater are 165 degrees E, 73 degrees N on the Martian surface.
Credit: ESA / DLR / FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO
Images of an "always-cold" Martian crater reveal a distant but mesmerizing winter paradise.
What appears to be a bowl of fresh snow in this image released by the European Space Agency (ESA) on Thursday (December 20) is actually an ice storage that cools the air, agency officials said in a statement.
Ice is found in the deeper parts of this formation, called the Korolev crater, and as the air moves over the ice, it cools and sinks, producing cool air just above the icy reservoir.
ESA officials called this phenomenon a "cold trap" because the air acts as a shield to keep the crater "permanently chilled."
The Korolev crater is 82 kilometers (51 miles) in diameter and is found south of the terrain surrounding Olympia Undae, the north polar cap of Mars. The crater floor can reach depths of two kilometers (1.2 miles) below its edge, deeper than the Earth's Grand Canyon.
The High Resolution Stereo Camera on the space agency's Mars Express satellite has captured five different "strips" of the crater, each coming from a different orbit of the spacecraft. By combining them, a single image was produced.
Mars Express has a connection with Christmas – the mission first fired its main engine to enter the Martian orbit on December 25, 2003 after a journey of approximately six months from Earth. Mars Express is the agency's first spacecraft to explore another planet, but its high-resolution stereoscopic camera and its mineralogical mapping spectrometer originated from an earlier mission called Mars 96, which failed shortly after its launch on November 16, 1996.