Avalanches on Mars


David Bowie once sung that there is Life on Mars, but scientifically this has to be proved. However, there are already avalanches of carbon dioxide ice.

The picture on the left was taken last month by a NASA mission. It shows clearly that such a phenomenon occurs in the Northern Hemisphere of the planet.

This happens as I am reading Red Mars, an excellent sci-fi book. To learn out more on both the avalanches and my reading, I invite you to

First and foremost, and before things get to my reading, here is the description of the image, provided by the NASA’s APOD page :

What caused this sudden cloud of dust on Mars? An avalanche! The first avalanche imaged in progress on another planet was recorded last month on Mars by NASA’s robotic Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Visible in the above picture, digitally rescaled, are several layers of white ice thawing over red rock, with darker colors toward the right indicated Martian soil that mixed with lesser amounts of ice.

As the cliff of over 700 meters high was thawing, falling ice crashed down raising plumes of ice and dust so thick they cast visible shadows. The scarp has slopes with grades greater than 60 degrees.

The entire scene is illuminated from the upper right by the Sun. A thaw occurs each spring in the Northern Hemisphere of Mars, as the warming climate causes solid carbon dioxide ice to sublimate directly to vapor.

Studying such avalanches allows planetary geologists to better understand soil configurations on Mars.

Source : Astronomy Picture of the Day, March 11th, 2008.

Finally, some words on Red Mars, the beginning of the renowned Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson. The story is about the conquest and the terraforming of the Red Planet and goes over two other books, Green Mars and Blue Mars.

I particularly enjoy reading this as scientific descriptions abound – the author mentioned carbon dioxide ice, but no avalanches – and as the various characters are very interesting, with many different persona and so on.

As the whole trilogy goes over 2,000 pages and that I only read 300, be sure that I’ll get back here to write to you about it.

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