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Mars photo shows seasonal change

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A few months ago, the Red Planet was white.


A new image from the Phoenix Mars Lander shows a landscape covered in ice and frost. The image, taken during the Martian winter in July and August, marked a visual confirmation of the progression of seasons scientists had expected was taking place.


The quality of the image — taken from a satellite orbiting 196 miles above the planet and carrying the UA-designed HiRISE camera — is low due to poor lighting, but clearly shows patches of carbon dioxide frost surrounding the lander, HiRISE media liaison Yisrael Espinoza said.


The photographs are among the last taken since the HiRISE camera was temporarily shut down due to problems with the spacecraft it is attached to, HiRISE principal investigator Dr. Alfred S. McEwen said, adding that the solar-powered lander itself has been non-operational since the beginning of the Martian winter.


The ice depicted in the photographs is more than three feet thick, McEwen said, but might be patchier now as the season changes to spring. He added that because the camera has not taken any recent photos, it is hard to say for sure.


""(The ice) should still be there, but thinner,"" he said.


Although the ice appears green in the image, ""it's not really green at all,"" said Espinoza, explaining that the camera is designed to highlight the presence of certain minerals in the frost.


Although the frost is important, Espinoza said, it is not unexpected.


He added that part of the purpose of such photographs is to keep the public in touch with a spacecraft that many have come to form a personal bond with.


""People tend to bond with the lander,"" he said. ""We have a tendency to look at them as something other than machines.""


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