Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

Front Page



UK Politics







Talking Point
On Air
Low Graphics

Sunday, September 27, 1998 Published at 15:30 GMT 16:30 UK


It's springtime on Mars

The view from 740 miles (1200 km) above Mars

The last images taken by the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft until next year show the arrival of spring at the planet's frozen north pole. Our science correspondent Dr David Whitehouse reports:

And they reveal what a strange place it must be.

The pole itself is covered in a layer of ice of unknown thickness.

Around it is a frozen desert with ridges of ice and dust laid down in layers over millions of years.

Channels, clearly seen in the image, have been eroded in the dust and morning frost clings to the slopes in shadow. Much of the ground seen in the image is frosty.

Some bluish-white wispy clouds are visible casting long dark shadows.

Sink without trace

When the surveyor takes more pictures of Mars's north pole in about six months, summer will have arrived. The frost will have gone and the region will look much darker.

But for now the surveyor has stopped taking pictures of Mars so that it can continue adjusting its orbit.

It is using the thin upper atmosphere of the red planet to "aerobrake" and change its orbit to a circular one that passes over both poles. This will enable all of Mars to be examined.

In the next few months two more Mars missions are to be launched.

In December the Mars Climate Orbiter will blast off followed in January 1999 by the Mars Polar Lander, which will land on the planet.

Scientists do not know if it will survive the landing or sink without trace into layers of dust.

Advanced options | Search tips

Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage | ©

Sci/Tech Contents

Relevant Stories

21 Jul 98 | Sci/Tech
Digging in and taking cover on Mars

18 Jun 98 | Sci/Tech
Mars in 3D

16 Jun 98 | Sci/Tech
Winter on Mars is much like the Earth.

07 Apr 98 | Sci/Tech
'Face' on Mars just a trick of nature

Internet Links

Mars missions

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

In this section

World's smallest transistor

Scientists join forces to study Arctic ozone

Mathematicians crack big puzzle

From Business
The growing threat of internet fraud

Who watches the pilots?

From Health
Cold 'cure' comes one step closer