Mars is looking like a cool at this time of year, especially in this framework recently released by the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter. The image shows the icy heart of the ever-cold Korolev crater and is one of the few snapshots sent by robot explorers from Mars to Earth this holiday season.
The Korolev crater formed sometime in the turbulent past of Mars when another object struck the lowlands of the planet's north, leaving a scar eighty kilometers wide and more than a kilometer deep. Dust and water ice accumulated slowly, forming a glacier that almost filled the hole left by that collision long ago.
The European Space Agency calls the crater a "cold trap," where air moving over icy ice is cooled, creating a kind of cold barrier between ice inside the crater and hotter parts of the atmosphere – even in summer.
This is not the first time the Korolev crater has a moment in the spotlight. NASA made waves in the Martian clouds in 2003, and in April of this year one of the first images captured by ESA's Trace Gas Orbiter satellite was a beautiful photo of the crater's edge.
The last images of the Korolev crater are a composition of five different images taken by Mars Express and were released to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the spacecraft's arrival to Mars.
Since then, the orbiter has gotten more company, most recently NASA's InSight landing module, which was successfully launched last month. This week, InSight also celebrated a milestone with a snapshot, taken after the deployment of a seismograph on Mars.
Okay, it's not as wintry, not as glamorous as the Mars Express photo, but it's still pretty cool. This is the first time a seismograph – which measures earthquakes on the planet – has been deployed on Mars, and researchers can not wait to get their hands on the data this instrument will send back.