Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2013 June 17
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Dry Ice Sled Streaks on Mars
Image Credit: HiRISE, MRO, LPL (U. Arizona), NASA

Explanation: What creates these long and nearly straight grooves on Mars? Dubbed linear gullies, they appear on the sides of some sandy slopes during Martian spring, have nearly constant width, extend for as long as two kilometers, and have raised banks along their sides. Unlike most water flows, they do not appear to have areas of dried debris at the downhill end. A leading hypothesis -- actually being tested here on Earth -- is that these linear gullies are caused by chunks of carbon dioxide ice (dry ice) breaking off and sliding down hills while sublimating into gas, eventually completely evaporating into thin air. If true, these natural dry-ice sleds may well provide future adventurers a smooth ride on cushions of escaping carbon dioxide. The above recently-released image was taken in 2006 by the HiRISE camera on board the NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter currently orbiting Mars.

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