Mars Photos Show Major Differences In Polar Caps
March 8, 2000
LONDON (Reuters) - High resolution images from the Mars Global Surveyor satellite have shown that the Red Planet is much more varied and complex than scientists had expected.

The pictures from the NASA satellite, which has been circling Mars since 1997, show significant differences in the polar regions of the planet.

The north polar cap, with its pitted icy surfaces, looks like cottage cheese while the southern cap has more elaborate shapes and holes that resemble Swiss cheese.

"The differences tell us that there is a real different geology which may mean there has been a long-term climate difference between the poles," Dr. Peter Thomas said in a telephone interview.

The regions may have had different climates for thousands or even millions of years.

"It was an interesting surprise that there was so much difference between the poles, what was deposited there and the shape of the landscape," he said.

Thomas, of Cornell University in New York, led a team of researchers who examined the images for clues about the mysterious planet. Their research is reported in the science journal Nature.

He described the finding as one step necessary to connect the present day climate of Mars with the geological features seen on the surface.

"We know the climate has been doing something -- regularly changing -- but we don't known how fast," said Thomas.

By connecting the geology to the climate scientists may be able to determine what is controlling climate change on Mars, if the planet ever had a climate that could have sustained life and if it did not, why not.

"It (the finding) is an important clue. It doesn't answer all the questions all at once but it gives another piece to the puzzle of what the atmosphere does, how warm it is, how much water it has, what the winds are," Thomas said.

NASA's Mars exploration program has suffered a series of setbacks in recent months.

In January, scientists gave up their efforts to locate the ill-fated Mars Polar Lander, a $165 million spacecraft that disappeared on Dec. 3 as it started its descent to the surface.

Last September, the Mars Climate Observer satellite was lost due to human error as it approached the planet.

A review board is looking at budget, management structure and schedules of the NASA Mars program and is to present its findings in mid-March.

Reposted from Sightings with Permission

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