Mars orbiter captures stunning image of planet’s frosty dunes

NASA’s Perseverance rover is getting all the attention just now, together with the Ingenuity helicopter that’s about to take flight on the red planet. But the space agency’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, too, continues to quietly work away, beaming back incredible imagery captured from high above the Martian surface.

The amazing photo below, for example, shows Mars’ frosty sand dunes, its stunning beauty earning it the accolade of NASA Image of the Day for Thursday, March 25.

NASA

“A field of sand dunes occupies this frosty 5-kilometer diameter crater in the high-latitudes of the northern plains of Mars,” the space agency said in comments accompanying the image.

“The surface of the main dune field is characterized by a series of dark-toned polygonal patterns,” it adds. “These may be the result of seasonal frost processes. Several of the steeper dune slopes, pointing in the downwind direction, host narrow furrows suggesting the start of gully formation.”

NASA says that the crater floor in the image reveals a variety of textures, “including lobate and striped patterns that indicate seasonal thaw caused by sublimating ice.”

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured the image last month with its High Resolution Imaging Experiment (HiRISE) camera from an altitude of 196 miles (315 km).

NASA’s orbiter, which carries six instruments capable of studying every level of Mars from underground layers to the top of the atmosphere, arrived at the red planet in 2006. The spacecraft is operating well beyond initial expectations, with NASA now aiming to keep it running until the end of this decade, possibly beyond.

The satellite has also been sending back some fascinating images showing NASA’s Perseverance rover, which reached Mars in February 2021. It even managed to capture Perseverance’s landing phase as it parachuted toward the Martian surface. Another image, taken a short while later, shows the rover as a tiny dot on the desolate Martian landscape.

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