Patterns Unique, Yet Familiar
Patterns Unique, Yet Familiar
ESP_050391_0955  Science Theme: Seasonal Processes
This close-up image gives the impression of looking like bacterial cells and their internal structures which travel and split in the process of life. These features are fractal in nature: the same image is preserved through different scales, with the pattern repeating eternally.

The reality is, we are looking at one of Mars’ polar regions; the South Polar residual cap to be precise, and, as with many things in Martian planetary science, there is a precise reasoning behind the name. With the coming and going of the seasons, this is an area on Mars where ice remains even after the peak of summer arrives.

The texture is very alien, bearing more of a resemblance to the universe of the very small, rather than the universe far, far away. But if this is a polar cap, then why does it not look like the polar caps on Earth? Indeed, there is no equivalent terrain observed here on Earth.

The so-called “Swiss cheese terrain,” referencing the numerous holes of the region, is a product of seasonal exchange between the surface and the Martian atmosphere. With a predominantly carbon dioxide content at 98 percent, the colder temperatures condense the gas out of the atmosphere to produce dry ice. The prevalence of water is more concentrated in the north, leaving the South polar region more carbon dioxide rich, and it’s this difference in composition that generates the unusual texture of the Swiss cheese terrain.

The Red Planet is one of the chief candidates in the search for life elsewhere in the Solar System; however, a quick glance at this image virtually gives the impression we have already found it.

NB: The cutout image has been rotated so that north is approximately up.

Written by: Jon Kissi, Livio L. Tornabene and Eric Pilles (audio: Tre Gibbs)  (21 August 2017)
Acquisition date
26 April 2017

Local Mars time

Latitude (centered)

Longitude (East)

Spacecraft altitude
246.4 km (153.1 miles)

Original image scale range
49.5 cm/pixel (with 2 x 2 binning) so objects ~148 cm across are resolved

Map projected scale
50 cm/pixel

Map projection

Emission angle

Phase angle

Solar incidence angle
85°, with the Sun about 5° above the horizon

Solar longitude
355.7°, Northern Winter

For non-map projected images
North azimuth:  115°
Sub-solar azimuth:  57.7°
Black and white
map projected  non-map

IRB color
map projected  non-map

Merged IRB
map projected

Merged RGB
map projected

RGB color
non-map projected

Black and white
map-projected   (142MB)

IRB color
map-projected   (87MB)

Black and white
map-projected  (60MB)
non-map           (96MB)

IRB color
map projected  (23MB)
non-map           (78MB)

Merged IRB
map projected  (125MB)

Merged RGB
map-projected  (117MB)

RGB color
non map           (70MB)

B&W label
Color label
Merged IRB label
Merged RGB label
EDR products

IRB: infrared-red-blue
RGB: red-green-blue
About color products (PDF)

Black & white is 5 km across; enhanced color about 1 km
For scale, use JPEG/JP2 black & white map-projected images

All of the images produced by HiRISE and accessible on this site are within the public domain: there are no restrictions on their usage by anyone in the public, including news or science organizations. We do ask for a credit line where possible:

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The HiRISE camera was built by Ball Aerospace and Technology Corporation and is operated by the University of Arizona.