ESA’s Mars Probe Captures Image of 82-km Wide Ice-filled Crater on Mars


There was a time when the news that scientists may have found water on Mars fascinated and awed the world. And now is the time when there are actual pictures that show a hint of a possibility that it might be true.

The European Space Agency has revealed images captured by its Mars Express probe which show a giant crater called ‘Korolev’ on the surface of the Red Planet.

The Korolev crater is named after Sergei Korolev, the Russian rocket engineer and spacecraft designer known as the father of Soviet space technology. Korolev worked on the Sputnik programme that sent the first artificial satellites into space in the 1950s, and later on the Vostok programme that carried Yuri Gagarin into the history books as the first man to orbit Earth.

The crater, which is found in the northern lowlands of Mars, just south of a large patch of dune-filled terrain that encircles part of the planet’s northern polar cap, is around 82 km wide and approximately 2 km deep. Images beamed back from the red planet show that the lip around the impact crater rises high above the surrounding plain. When thin Martian air then passes over the crater, it becomes trapped and cools to form an insulating layer that prevents the ice from melting.

Evidence from orbiting spacecraft, rovers and landers reveals ancient watercourses and lake beds on Mars. Vast quantities of frozen water have been found at the planet’s poles. In July, astronomers used Mars Express radar measurements to find what appeared to be a 12-mile stretch of briny waterbeneath the planet’s surface.

The latest picture is a composite of five strip-like images taken from the ESA’s Mars Express probe, which swung into orbit around the planet on Christmas Day 2003. On the same day, the orbiter released the Beagle 2 lander, a British probe built on a shoestring budget, which touched down but failed to fully open on the surface.

Mars Express photographed the Korolev crater with its high-resolution stereo camera, an instrument that can pick out features 10 metres wide, or as small as 2 metres when used in super-resolution mode. ESA’s Mars Express mission was launched on June 2, 2003, and reached Mars six months later.