Layers of the South Pole of Mars


What lies beneath the layered south pole of Mars? A recent measurement with ground-penetrating radar from ESA’s Mars Express satellite has detected a bright reflection layer consistent with an underground lake of salty water.

South Pole of Mars
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The reflection comes from about 1.5-km down but covers an area 200-km across. Liquid water evaporates quickly from the surface of Mars, but a briny confined lake, such as implied by the radar reflection, could last much longer and be a candidate to host life such as microbes.

Pictured, an infrared, green, and blue image of the south pole of Mars taken by Mars Express in 2012 shows a complex mixture of layers of dirt, frozen carbon dioxide, and frozen water.

Image Credit & License: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin; Bill Dunford

The Iris Nebula in a Field of Dust


The striking blue color of the Iris Nebula is created by light from the bright star SAO 19158 reflecting off of a dense patch of normally dark dust. Not only is the star itself mostly blue, but blue light from the star is preferentially reflected by the dust — the same effect that makes Earth’s sky blue.

The brown tint of the pervasive dust comes partly from photoluminescence — dust converting ultraviolet radiation to red light. Cataloged as NGC 7023, the Iris Nebula is studied frequently because of the unusual prevalence there of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs), complex molecules that are also released on Earth during the incomplete combustion of wood fires.

Iris Nebula

The bright blue portion of the Iris Nebula spans about six light years. The Iris Nebula, pictured here, lies about 1300 light years distant and can be found with a small telescope toward the constellation of Cepheus.

Image Credit & Copyright: Franco Sgueglia & Francesco Sferlazza