Is That White Chocolate or the Surface of Mars?

Sand dunes covered in carbon dioxide ice on Mars.
Sand dunes covered in carbon dioxide ice on Mars.
Image: ESA/Roscosmos/CaSSIS

A new image of dunes on the Martian north pole looks a lot like a candy bar.

The European Space Agency/Roscosmos ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter’s CaSSIS instrument captured this image of ice-covered dunes, released by the ESA this week. The dark patches are the result of gas exploding up from the ice, forcing sand to the surface.

Here’s the full image:

Illustration for article titled Is That White Chocolate or the Surface of Mars?
Image: ESA/Roscosmos/CaSSIS

Dunes on Mars form when winds move sediment, just like on Earth. Observing their orientation clues scientists into the wind direction, according to an ESA press release. This image shows the result of frozen carbon dioxide sublimating into a gas and erupting to the icy surface, bringing dark sand with it.

Mars’ poles are already the subject of much research and are thought to be full of water, some of it liquid. But the Trace Gas Orbiter is also hunting for more information about the planet’s gases, likes its methane. Previous research has shown that Mars’ methane levels change seasonally and spiked this year. The researchers hope to understand how active the planet is, from both a geological and biological perspective.

Thankfully, the Trace Gas Orbiter’s CaSSIS instrument also takes lots of awesome pictures. In the past few years, we’ve been treated to a spider-like scene potentially caused by small tornadoes and vast views of impact craters.

Former Gizmodo physics writer and founder of Birdmodo, now a science communicator specializing in quantum computing and birds

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i watched too much TV as a kid.  that nestle commercial just popped into my head.  when white chocolate was “invented” it was a thing back in the 80s