Polar Regions

For telescopic observers the most striking regular changes on Mars occur at the poles. With the onset of fall in a particular hemisphere, clouds develop over the relevant polar region, and the cap, made of frozen carbon dioxide, begins to grow. The smaller cap in the north ultimately extends to 55° latitude, the larger one in the south to 50° latitude. In spring the caps recede. During summer the northern carbon dioxide cap disappears completely, leaving behind a small waterice cap. In the south a small residual cap

Mars Carbon Dioxide Clouds

Mars (Syrtis Major side), photographed by the Earth-orbiting Hubble Space Telescope on March 10, 1997. Among the sharpest images ever taken from Earth's vicinity, it shows the bright and dark features long familiar to telescopic observers. The north polar cap at the top has lost much of its annual frozen carbon dioxide layer, revealing the small permanent water-ice cap and dark collar of sand dunes. NASA/JPL/David Crisp and the WFPC2 Science Team scientist, George J. Stoney, questioned this theory and suggested that the caps might consist of frozen carbon dioxide, but evidence to support the idea was not available until Dutch American astronomer Gerard Kuiper's 1947 detection of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

In 1966 American scientists Robert Leighton and Bruce Murray published the results of a numerical model of the thermal environment on Mars that raised considerable doubt about the water-ice hypothesis. Their calculations indicated that, under Martian conditions, atmospheric carbon dioxide would freeze at the poles, and the growth and shrinkage of their model carbon dioxide caps mimicked the observed behaviour of the actual caps. The model predicted that the seasonal caps were relatively thin, only a few metres deep near the poles and thinning toward the equator. Although based on simplifications of the actual conditions on Mars, their results were later confirmed by thermal and spectral measurements taken by the twin Mariner 6 and 7 spacecraft when they flew by Mars in 1969.

composed of carbon dioxide ice and water ice lingers over the summer.

The composition of the seasonal polar caps was the subject of debate for nearly 200 years. One early hypothesis— that the caps were made of water ice—can be traced to English astronomer William Herschel, who imagined them to be just like those on Earth. In 1898 an Irish

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