A shaded-relief image of the ice cap on Mars North Pole. Courtesy of Jon Pelletier, UA.
The image generated by Pelletiers computer simulations shows patterns like those of Mars spiral troughs, right down to the imperfections. Courtesy of Jon Pelletier
The spiral troughs of Mars’ polar ice caps have been called the most enigmatic landforms in the solar system. The deep canyons spiraling out from Red Planet’s North and South poles cover hundreds of miles. No other planet has such structures.
A new model of trough formation suggests that heating and cooling alone are sufficient to form the unusual patterns. Previous explanations had focused on alternate melting and refreezing cycles but also required wind or shifting ice caps.
“I applied specific parameters that were appropriate to Mars and out of that came spirals that were not just spirals, but spirals that had exactly the shape we see on Mars.” said Jon Pelletier, an assistant professor of geosciences at the University of Arizona in Tucson. “They had the right spacing, they had the right curvature, they had the right relationship to one another.”
Mari N. Jensen | University of Arizona
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