An image snapped by the European Space Agency‘s Mars Express, taken from an altitude of more than 6,000 miles, captures the surface of the Red Planet’s south pole in intricate close up, with its vast craters and ragged landforms. The blotchy white mark in the image is actually a polar ice cap, composed of carbon dioxide and frozen water.
These icy conditions are typical of the Martian climate, where astronomers have observed dry-ice snow and other Earth-like weather.
Charon’s “dark poles” have also long intrigued scientists — in particular the moon’s polar regions. In the image, taken by New Horizons‘ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on July 13, 2015, the reddish blemish appears to mark an impact basin, which scientists are currently discovering in order to learn more about the mystery-shrouded satellite.
Researchers are still not entirely sure what the dark material at Charon’s devastatingly cold poles (they’re barely warmer than absolute zero) are, but it’s thought that a process of “cold trapping” could be to blame. Carly Howett, senior research scientist at the Southwest Research, explained: “We know Pluto’s atmosphere is mainly nitrogen, with some methane and carbon monoxide, so we expect that these same constituents are slowly coating Charon’s winter pole.”
It’s hoped that more will be revealed in the next few weeks, when new images and data from New Horizons’ latest flyby of Pluto’s system are sent back to Earth.
The final batch of remarkable space images released overnight focussed on Pluto. The new pictures are double the resolution as those previously downloaded from New Horizons, showing dunes, nitrogen ice flows that appear to ooze down mountains, plains, networks of valleys and chaotic jumbles of mountains. We’ve included them in all their glory below.