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What the Heck Is This?

You can probably make a fair guess as to some of what is in this image. But figuring out specifically what it is, and where it is, is probably quite a challenge.

I think we'll do no hints today, other than to say the subject of the photo has been in the news this week.

See the full image and an explanation below…

The photo shows a part of the northern ice cap of Mars. It was taken by the Mars Express High-Resolution Stereo Camera in May 2010 and released today by the European Space Agency. Did you know it snows on Mars? Read on …

Mars' northern ice cap is covered in water ice and carbon dioxide ice. The dark area to the left is Chasma Boreale, a canyon that's about 1.2 miles (2 km) deep, 360 miles (580 km) long and some 62 miles (100 km) wide. (Image credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum))

The polar cap is made of water ice and carbon dioxide ice (what we sometimes call "dry ice").

Like Earth, Mars goes through seasons. This picture was made during the northern hemisphere's summer solstice, a time when most of the overlying carbon dioxide ice has warmed and evaporated into the atmosphere, leaving behind mostly water ice, studies suggest.

In the Red Planet's northern hemisphere winter, carbon dioxide condenses and falls as snow.

Studies have shown that there is water ice buried under the surface near the equator of Mars, and that the planet was likely warmer and wet long ago. Scientists wonder if water might ever exist in liquid form at the surface. A study this week found evidence for flowing water on Mars, reinvigorating hope among scientists that the conditions might exist to support life.

Robert Roy Britt
Rob was a writer and editor at starting in 1999. He served as managing editor of Live Science at its launch in 2004. He is now Chief Content Officer overseeing media properties for the sites’ parent company, Purch. Prior to joining the company, Rob was an editor at The Star-Ledger in New Jersey, and in 1998 he was founder and editor of the science news website ExploreZone. He has a journalism degree from Humboldt State University in California.