While the presence of liquid water on Mars remains a hotly-debated topic among scientists, we know that there is plenty of water ice on the surface of the Red Planet.
Now, the ESA has presented us with a stunning image of a massive Martian crater covered in Water Ice.
The so-called Korolev crater is a 50 mile (82 km) wide geological feature in the northern lowlands of Mars.
The crater itself is a geological depression 80 kilometers wide that is found in the frigid latitudes located north of the red planet and is believed to be packed with a layer of ice 1.8 kilometers deep throughout the year.
The crater is found in a massive patch of dune-filled terrain that encircles part of the planet’s northern polar cap (known as Olympia Undae).
According to the European Space Agency, it is “an especially well-preserved example of a Martian crater.”
The crater is named after chief rocket engineer and spacecraft designer Sergei Korolev, dubbed the father of Soviet space technology.
The crater is filled with ice, and it is believed to hold water ice nearly two kilometers thick, all year around.
Scientists estimate that the ice forms a glacier that contains a stunning 528 cubic miles of non-polar ice on Mars.
Furthermore, smaller amounts of water ice are clearly visible on and around the crater’s edge.
The Ice inside the crater exists due to a phenomenon referred to as a cold trap, which is caused by the crater’s floor, located two kilometers beneath its rim.
The air that moves over the Ice deposit cools down and moves vertically towards the bottom, which creates a layer of cold air that remains above the ice shelf.
This phenomenon acts as a shield, and the layer helps the ice remain frozen.
The ESA explains:
The very deepest parts of Korolev crater, those containing ice, act as a natural cold trap: the air moving over the deposit of ice cools down and sinks, creating a layer of cold air that sits directly above the ice itself.
Behaving as a shield, this layer helps the ice remain stable and stops it from heating up and disappearing. Air is a poor conductor of heat, exacerbating this effect and keeping Korolev crater permanently icy.
The stunning new image was photographed by the Mars Express High-Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC). It comprises five different images that were stitched together and combined to form a single photograph. Each individual image was snapped over a different orbit.