Spaceflight Now: Breaking News

Mars probe sees frosted polar sand dunes in spring
Posted: July 27, 2000

Another spring has "sprung" in the northern hemisphere of Mars! Northern spring began in June, and as we approach August, sunlight is now illuminating most of the north polar cap each day. This is the second northern spring that Mars Global Surveyor's Mars Orbiter Camera has viewed -- we've now seen, in selected areas, a full Mars year of atmospheric and surface conditions. Although the pictures do not cover the exact same area, pictures from exactly two Earth years ago (26 July 1998) show very similar features in the north circum-polar dune field.

Mars Global Surveyor image. Photo: NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems
At this time, frost left-over from the recent winter is slowly subliming away to expose underlying northern plains and sand dune surfaces. The picture above shows a frost-covered portion of the vast dune fields that surround the north polar cap as they appeared on July 22, 2000. In summer, the dunes are dark, but in winter and early spring they are covered with bright frost. Small dark spots and streaks indicate areas where the frost has begun to dissappear. This Mars Global Surveyor Mars Orbiter Camera image covers an area 2.3 km (1.4 mi) wide by 7.7 km (4.8 mi) long near 78 degrees N, 107 degrees W and is illuminated from the lower left.

Malin Space Science Systems and the California Institute of Technology built the MOC using spare hardware from the Mars Observer mission. MSSS operates the camera from its facilities in San Diego, CA. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Mars Surveyor Operations Project operates the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft with its industrial partner, Lockheed Martin Astronautics, from facilities in Pasadena, CA and Denver, CO.