March 10, 2008


The High Resolution Imaging Experiment (HiRISE) on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has captured images of enormous clouds of dust and ice rolling down a steep slope (Click on the images at left for a larger view). The pictures were taken on February 19, and have just been recently released by NASA.

The images contain a steep slope more than 700m (2,300 ft.) tall. The location of these pictures had been repeatedly focused upon to check upon seasonal changes, specifically springtime changes in the carbon-dioxide frost covering on a dune. However, these set of images revealed these avalanches. "It really surprised me," said Ingrid Daubar Spitale of the University of Arizona at Tucson. "It's great to see something so dynamic on Mars. A lot of what we see there hasn't changed for millions of years." She was the first person to notice these avalanches on Mars.

NASA does not yet know what has caused these landslides on Mars. They say they will continue to monitor this region to see if these avalanches take place year round, or only in the springtime. A reddish layer rich in liquid water forms the majority of the slope. It is predicted that more ice fell than dust, leading to researchers studying the base of the slope to check its composition showing what part is ice. Researchers also predict that the blocks of ice falling in the avalanche probably turned from solid to gas, and will see if blocks of ice and other debris get smaller suggesting the theory. NASA hopes that the information gained from this will help us understand more about the Martian water cycle.

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