Martian 'winter wonderland' captured by Mars Express orbiter

Rob Waugh
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A 'winter wonderland' on Mars might be a little chilly even for Santa Claus (Image: ESA)

A dusting of 'snow' covers the plains and the floors of the craters - and looks almost Christmassy.

But the 'winter wonderland' captured on Mars might be a little chilly even for Santa Claus: the frost is dry ice, frozen carbon dioxide, dusting the walls of a crater near where the Curiosity Rover is exploring.

Surface temperatures on Mars are often as low as -60 degrees Centigrade - but, just like on Earth, snow is seasonal.

The image was captured by the high-resolution stereo camera on ESA's Mars Express orbiter.

[Related: Stunning NASA images show how 'Earth never sleeps]

The photograph shows the Charitum Montes region of the Red Planet on 18 June, near to Gale crater, where the Mars Curiosity Rover is exploring.

Charitum Montes are a large group of rugged mountains extending over almost 1000 km and bounding the southernmost rim of the Argyre impact basin.

They can be seen from Earth through larger telescope and were named by Eugène Michel Antoniadi (1870–1944) in his 1929 work La Planète Mars. 

The landscape shows huge craters carved by ancient asteroid impacts, with 'snow' and sediment filling some of them.

The 3D image - computer-generated from data from the satellite - shows a breach in a crater wall, sand dunes on the floor of the crater, and 'frost' clinging to them.

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