NASA researchers have captured the image of a face on Mars, created by shifting carbon dioxide ice at the southern pole and measuring over 500 meters across.
Carbon dioxide ice is abundant at the Martian poles throughout most of the red planet’s year, according to the Daily Mail. Temperatures at the polar regions of Mars are cold enough for ice to exist, though they rise nearer the equator, causing it to quickly evaporate. NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) is tasked with photographing many of the unusual shapes that arise in the ice at the southern pole. Among the bizarre formations, researchers were recently excited to notice one that resembled a smiling face.
The face appears to have a nose and upturned mouth, as a dark area along the edge represents steep cliffs that separate the formation from the plain below. It was uncovered at a monitoring site at the South Pole residual cap (SPRC) on Mars, a region in which the changing climate causes carbon dioxide ice to shift throughout the year, giving rise to new structures. The features that comprise the face denote different elevations and ice densities across the unique formation.
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has been circling the planet since March 10, 2006. Stationed in a sun-synchronous, roughly polar orbit, according to Sci-News, the MRO entered its primary science phase on November 6, 2006, beginning a campaign to study ice sublimation at the Martian south pole.
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The spacecraft is also equipped with the HiRise imager, a high-resolution camera which utilizes an image-overlay technique to capture photos of Mars with a 0.25 meter per pixel scale. Earlier this week, it was revealed that the HiRise camera detected the long-lost Beagle 2 lander, which went silent during a 2003 landing on the red planet. As the Inquisitr previously reported, HiRise is the only camera in the orbit of Mars capable of photographing objects as small as a lander or rover.
“Images are taken throughout the Martian year to document changes in carbon dioxide ice coverage,” NASA’s Tre Gibbs said. “This image shows a popular spot where one of the features represents a smiley face that is approximately 500 meters across. If you smile at Mars, sometimes it smiles back.”
Though the Viking orbiter snapped an iconic picture of a face on Mars in 1976, the formation was later proven to be the result of shifting sand dunes.
[Images: NASA via the Daily Mail]