Astronomy Picture of the Day
November 22, 2012

Water-Ice Frost in Utopia Planitia
Water-Ice Frost in Utopia Planitia

NASA/JPL - Viking Lander 2 Project - Credits for the additional process. and color.: Marco Faccin/Lunar Explorer Italia/IPF

This High-Resolution photo of the Surface of Mars was taken by the NASA - Viking Lander 2 at its Landing Site, in the Northern Region of Utopia Planitia, on May 18, 1979, and relayed to Earth by the Viking Orbiter 1 on June 7 of the same year. It shows a thin coating of Water Ice on the Rocks and Soil in front of and all around the Lander. The time the Frost appeared corresponds almost exactly with the buildup of Frost which occurred one Martian Year (such as about 23 months on Earth) before. In the past, the Frost remained on the Surface of Utopia Planitia for about 100 Soles (Martian Days).

Some Scientists believe that the Dust Particles, which are suspended in the Atmosphere of Mars, may, from time to time, pick up bits of solid (and also suspended in the Martian Atmosphere) Water Ice Particles, but such a combination (mix) of Dust and Water Ice Particles, once is done, is still not heavy enough to fall. In time, though, when even the Carbon Dioxide (CO2) - which makes up approx. 95% of the whole Martian Atmosphere - freezes and adheres to the aforementioned Dust and Ice Particles, then they shall reach the sufficient weight to fall and settle on the Surface of Mars, where they will stay for the entire dark and cold Martian Winter.

Afterwards, during the Martian Spring, and once warmed enough by the Sun, the Carbon Dioxide that is present on the Martian Surface shall sublimate and return into the Atmosphere, leaving behind the Water Ice and Dust Particles that we see here. Consider, however (and in order to have a correct perception of this phenomenon), that the Ice seen here, in this picture of the Surface of Utopia Planitia (just like the one which formed one Martian Year before), is extremely thin - perhaps no more than one-thousandth (1/1000) of an inch thick. If you wish to see another picture of this very same location (showing the same phenomenon and colorized in Absolute Natural Colors), please refer to the APOD's Archive and then go the the APOD of February 28, 2012.

This frame has been colorized in Natural Colors (such as the colors that a perfect human eye - or an electronic eye - would actually perceive if someone were on the Surface of Mars, near the NASA - Viking Lander 2, and then looked towards the Horizon of and the Sky above Utopia Planitia), by using an original technique created - and, in time, dramatically improved - by the Lunar Explorer Italia Team.

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