Who Wants To Go Ice Skating Across This Wintry Martian Crater?

Korolev crater on Mars boasts an ice rink measuring over 80km wide—and it’s one of the most spectacular surface features on the Red Planet, as the latest image from the Mars Express spacecraft reveals.

Named after Russian rocket scientist Sergey Korolev, this incredible crater is located in the northern lowlands of Mars and just south of Olympia Undae—a large patch of dune-filled terrain that encircles the planet’s northern polar cap. It may look as if Korolev crater is filled with snow, but it’s actually ice. The impressive impact crater measures 82km across (82 kilometers), and at the center of the circle—it’s deepest point—the ice extends down for 1.1 miles (1.8 kilometers).

This stunning new photo of the crater was captured by the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) instrument on the European Space Agency’s Mars Express satellite, which has been in orbit around Mars for the past 15 years.

The image was stitched together from five distinct strips, each of which was captured during a different orbit this past April. The image was processed to show how Korolev crater appears when viewed from an angle, and colour corrected to show how it would appear to a human observer. An overhead view (below) and topographical view of the crater were also released by the ESA.

Overhead view of Korolev crater.

The ice within Korolev crater is a permanent feature, despite the six-month-long northern summer on Mars. It’s an example of a cold trap; the floor of the crater is quite deep, lying about 1.2 miles (1.9 kilometers) vertically beneath the rim. The ESA explains further:

The very deepest parts of Korolev crater, those containing ice, act as a natural cold trap: the air moving over the deposit of ice cools down and sinks, creating a layer of cold air that sits directly above the ice itself.

Behaving as a shield, this layer helps the ice remain stable and stops it from heating up and disappearing. Air is a poor conductor of heat, exacerbating this effect and keeping Korolev crater permanently icy.

Should humans ever settle on Mars, this region might make for a sweet spot. Water is scarce on the Red Planet, so this polar region, with its extensive ice caps, could provide an ample supply of the precious liquid. Just as importantly, Korolev crater would provide a venue for the most epic game of hockey in the history of the Solar System.