Martian mudslides

Mars’s barren surface isn’t quite as static as we once thought…

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Martian mudslides
Movement like this is a rare occurrence on the Red Planet

These pictures could easily have been taken at any dusty Earth location, but they’re actually snaps of Mars, taken by NASA’s HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) camera by mistake as scientists searched for carbon dioxide frost. The photos show four avalanches of Martian mud spilling across a strip of terrain six kilometres (3.7 miles) long and 700 metres (2,300 feet) tall, located at the Red Planet’s north pole.

The landslides are actually quite small, but they’ve caused some excitement at NASA, partly because the planet is normally so still and lifeless that to capture these dynamic images is quite a rarity. But they have also helped to give an insight into the composition of the planet.

It’s expected that the material that has fallen loose is probably more ice than red Martian dust, but by watching the debris and how rapidly it shrinks as the solids change to gas, scientists hope to apportion a precise figure over time. Also of interest to NASA scientists is the cause of the mudslide, which isn’t yet clear.

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