NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems
The martian south polar residual ice cap is mostly made of frozen carbon dioxide. There is no place on Earth that a person can go to see the landforms that would be produced by erosion and sublimation of hundreds or thousands of cubic kilometers of carbon dioxide. Thus, the south polar cap of Mars is as alien as alien can get. This image, acquired in February 2004 by the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC), shows how the cap appears in summer as carbon dioxide is subliming away, creating a wild pattern of pits, mesas, and buttes. Darker surfaces may be areas where the ice contains impurities, such as dust, or where the surface has been roughened by the removal of ice. This image is located near 86.3°S, 0.8°W. This picture covers an area about 3 km (1.9 mi) across. Sunlight illuminates the scene from the top/upper left.
Malin Space Science Systems and the California Institute of Technology built the MOC using spare hardware from the Mars Observer mission. MSSS operates the camera from its facilities in San Diego, California. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Mars Surveyor Operations Project operates the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft with its industrial partner, Lockheed Martin Astronautics, from facilities in Pasadena, California and Denver, Colorado.