Over The Edge

Fine ice and dust cascades over a Martian polar cliff. March 2010.

I was just checking out this HiRISE image from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and thought I’d tweak it and share it here…it’s a rare and very nice in-action shot of fine ice and dust particles streaming over the edge of a sheer 2,300-foot-high cliff in the north polar region of Mars. Billowing clouds of dust at the base extend hundreds of feet outwards. The top of the cliff, at upper right, is a plateau covered with carbon dioxide frost – a.k.a. dry ice. The layers of the cliff wall show varying bands of reddish-brown and pale pink coloration (the image itself is false-color) that give clues to their composition, which is mostly different combinations of ice, dust and rock.

I rotated the image from its original release because I felt this way the perspective of stuff falling down over a cliff is better represented. I also level-adjusted and sharpened the image to bring out some detail in the surfaces and dust cloud.

Read more about this image and similar instances of Martian avalanches here.

It’s believed that these avalanches are caused by the warming of the carbon dioxide frost during the Martian spring, both on the surface and beneath the ground. Sublimation of frozen CO2 causes it to expand and, in some instances, burst from the ground in dust-filled geysers.

Image: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona. Edited by J. Major.