Flying over the frigid northern limits of Mars, the circling Mars Express satellite took images of the 50-mile wide Korolev crater packed with ice.
Korolev is a very alluring sight, not just because it’s a well-preserved impact crater but because it’s filled with ice over a mile deep year round.
Launched 15 years ago by the European Space Agency (ESA), Mars Express often concentrates on glaciers and ice in the Martian polar regions.
The Korolev crater’s ice is immune to melting during the warmer summer seasons because the huge plain of ice creates a “cold trap,” ESA explains. When air travels above the crater, it freezes and sinks over the ice, creating a sort of cool “shield” over the ice.
So even as the season’s change, Korolev remains brimming with ice. Most Martian craters, even in cooler regions, don’t remain full year-round.
As Mars Express zips over the desert planet, it takes photos of various strips of land and then gives the pictures back to Earth.
ESA scientists then blend the images together to build a unified picture of different Martian landforms, dried-up lakes, and bodies of frozen water.
These Korolev images above are composites of five separate photos, each taken while a separate orbit across Mars.
Korolev headed the Soviet space program and famously beat the Americans into space. The Soviets, under Korolev’s leadership, sent both the first human and satellite into space.
“He’s a key figure in space history — though he died much too early,” space historian Robert Pearlman said.
Mars Express continues to actively scour the red Martian terrain and transmit truly brilliant extraterrestrial images back to Earth.