A photo captured by NASA's space probe revealed a polar ice cap on Mars. The agency believes the layers of the ice cap contain traces of the Red Planet's previous climate changes.
The stunning image was captured by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) using its High-Resolution Imaging Experiment (HiRISE) camera. This has probe has been taking photos of Mars and studying its surface from orbit since it reached the planet in 2006.
Mars' Cake-Like Ice Cap
The photo captured by the MRO features the dark red surface of Mars. Streaking across the landscape like frosting on a cake is an ice cap that is a part of the Red Planet's north pole. NASA explained that the ice cap is made up of various layers that are composed of dust particles mixed with frozen water. As noted by NASA, the seasonal carbon dioxide frost makes the ice cap look like a layer of tiramisu cake.
"This image of an exposed section of the north polar layered deposits (NPLD) looks much like a delicious slice of layered tiramisu," the agency said in a statement. The NPLD is made up of water-ice and dust particles stacked one on top of the other. However, instead of icing, layers are topped with seasonal carbon dioxide frost, as seen here as lingering frost adhering to one of the layers."
Tracking Mars' Past Climate Changes
Aside from the composition of the layers, NASA was also able to gather important data from the ice cap regarding the history of climate change on Mars. According to the agency, the layers of the ice cap could have air pockets containing traces of the Red Planet's atmosphere. The agency believes that taking samples from these air pockets would reveal the distinct characteristics of Mars' climates.
"The high-resolution and color capabilities of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's HiRISE camera provides details on the variations in the layers," NASA explained. "Scientists are also using radar data, which show us that they have continuity in the subsurface. During deposition, these complex layers might encapsulate tiny air pockets from the atmosphere which, if sampled, could be studied to understand linkages to previous climates."