What might look like a scene from a science fiction film is actually a real-life image of dunes speckling the surface of Mars.
The gorgeous photo from NASA's Odyssey orbiter released April 8 reveals the extreme and varying temperatures in a sea of dunes at Mars' northern polar cap, which are formed into long and weaving lines by winds over time. The Red Planet does not actually have blue patches; the blue regions in this false-color image represent colder areas, and warmer features are seen as a yellowish-orange color, NASA officials said.
The image depicts an area about 19 miles (30 kilometers) wide, but the total scope of dunes at Mars' northern polar cap stretches out much farther, covering an area the size of Texas.
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Sand dunes can be found in various locations around the Red Planet. From the polar region depicted in this image to the floors of craters and more, Mars' dunes are fascinating features on the planet's surface. Some of the dunes on the planet have even been spotted covered in frost, which comes and goes with the seasons.
While NASA released the new image April 8, it is composed of images captured from December 2002 to November 2004 by the THEMIS (Thermal Emission Imaging System) instrument on board NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter. The image is part of a set of photos released recently to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Odyssey, which launched on April 7, 2001 and began observing Mars in October of that year.
Odyssey is stilly studying the Red Planet; it holds the record for the longest active spacecraft continuously orbiting another planet. The craft's primary mission has been to study Mars' environment and collect data to inform and protect future Mars missions. Aside from THEMIS, the craft carries instruments called GRS (Gamma Ray Spectrometer) and MARIE ( Mars Radiation Environment Experiment).
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