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Trace Gas Orbiter Finds Water Ice in Martian Polar Crater

ESA’s Trace Gas Orbiter has returned a stunning image of a 4-km- (2.5-mile) wide crater located in Vastitas Borealis, the largest lowland region of Mars.

Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) arrived at Mars in 2016 and began its full science mission in 2018.

Its key goal is to gain a better understanding of methane and other gases that are present in small concentrations in the Martian atmosphere, but nevertheless could be evidence for possible biological or geological activity.

The spacecraft will also provide data relay services for the second ExoMars mission comprising the Rosalind Franklin rover, when it arrives on Mars in 2023.

TGO is not only providing the best ever inventory of the planet’s atmospheric gases, but also returning spectacular images.

The new image, taken on July 5, 2021, shows a small crater in the Vastitas Borealis region, centered at 70.6 °N/230.3°E.

“The crater is partially filled with water ice, which is also particularly predominant on its north-facing slopes that receive fewer hours of sunlight on average throughout the year,” TGO scientists said.

“The dark material clearly visible on the crater rim — giving it a somewhat scorched appearance — likely consists of volcanic materials such as basalt.”

“Most of the surrounding terrain is ice free, but has been shaped by ongoing aeolian processes.”

“The streaks at the bottom right of the image are formed by winds that have removed the brighter iron oxide dust from the surface, exposing a slightly darker underlying substrate.”