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Red Planet Appears to Host Active Glacier

Hourglass_glacier_2 What scientists believe is an active glacier has been identified for the first time on in images from the European Space Agency's (Esa) Express spacecraft.

Ancient glaciers, many millions of years old, have been spotted before on the Red Planet, but this one in the Deuteronilus Mensae region between Mars' rugged southern highlands and the flat northern lowlands may only be several thousand years old.

"If it was an image of Earth, I would say 'glacier' right away," Dr Gerhard Neukum, chief scientist on the spacecraft's High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) told BBC News.

"We have not yet been able to see the spectral signature of water. But we will fly over it in the coming months and take measurements. On the glacial ridges we can see white tips, which can only be freshly exposed ice."

This is found in very few places on the Red Planet because as soon ice is exposed to the Martian environment, it sublimates - or turns from a solid state directly into gas. Dr Neukum estimates that water came up from underground in the last 10,000 to 100,000 years. "That means it is an active glacier now. This is unique, and there are probably more," said Dr Neukum.

Some researchers believe that snowfall causes glaciers to develop on Mars, as it does on Earth. But Gerhard Neukum thinks there is too little precipitation on the Red Planet for this to be the case. Glacial features have been seen before on the Olympus Mons volcano, which are thought to be about four million years old.

Glaciers appear to exist on the slopes of Mars’ great volcanoes: Olympus Mons, Elysium Mons, and Arsia, Pavonis and Ascraeus Mons (known collectively as Tharsis Montes). These massive volcanoes all exhibit surface features that, on Earth, are attributed to glacier action. The image above is one example of such a feature found down in the Hellas Basin region; it’s an hourglass shaped crater filled with what looks like a glacier pouring from one side into the other (image credit: ESA).

Posted by Casey Kazan.

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