Martian Crater 'Decorates' for Holiday Season with Massive Patch of Fresh Ice

A Martian crater covered in ice helps bring holiday joy to astronomers and the public with its stunning icy landscape.

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Fans of freshly fallen snow will love a recent Martian find thanks to the Mars Express.

Images surfaced of a massive patch of untrodden ice in the Korolev Crater on Mars. The European Space Agency released the photos earlier this week. 

The Korolev crater measures roughly 82 km across and lies in the northern part of the red planet. It sits slightly south of a dune-riddled terrain called the Olympia Undae. 

Mars's constant ice fascinated early researchers of the red planet. Astronomers discovered Mars holds ice constantly due to a "cold trap." The crater's floor "trapped" the air moving over the deposit of ice. This caused the air to sink, creating cooler air that sits over the ice itself, and the process repeated. 

Martian Crater 'Decorates' for Holiday Season with Massive Patch of Fresh Ice
Source: European Space Agency (used with Creative Commons Licensing)

The thin layer of air keeps the ice from melting, and thus, the Korolev crater is permanently icy. Astronomers have kept tabs on Korolev for several years now, and it's become a point of interest for other projects including the ESA ExoMars program. 

About the Korolev Crater's Namesake, Sergei Korolev

The Korolev crater takes its name from a Soviet rocket engineer and designer named Sergei Korolev. He's often referred to as the father of Soviet space technology. 

Most of the Soviet Union's biggest innovations -- from Sputnik to launching Yuri Gagarin -- involved Korolev. He also helped launch the first interplanetary missions. Korolev laid the groundwork for the Soyuz rockets as well, and thus, played an important role in getting researchers around the world to the International Space Station.

About Mars Express

The ESA used the Mars Express probe to discover the ice-filled crater. The Express entered Mars's orbit on Christmas Day in 2003. Since its launch, the Mars Express managed several orbits around Mars -- giving astronomers one of the most complete pictures of the Martian surface possible.