Mars’ Korolev Crater: A massive reservoir of water ice

By | Published: December 21, 2018 | Last updated on May 18, 2023
A recent image of Mars’ Korolev crater, taken by the European Space Agency’s Mars Express probe.

Mars is cold, mostly dry, and a place where liquid water appears only fleetingly. But water ice does exist on the Red Planet, and in the northern lowlands, Korolev crater holds a veritable reservoir nearly 1.1 miles (1.8 kilometers) thick in places.

This remarkable photograph is a combination of five different image strips recombined into one that reveals the 51-mile (82 km) wide crater and its ever-present sheet of ice. Due to the cold trap phenomenon, when the thin air settles over the ice, it cools down and creates a chilly layer that behaves as a shield, keeping Korolev continuously icy.

The pictures that make up this image were recorded by the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter which has been snapping pictures of the Martian surface since 2003.

Korolev is named after the enigmatic rocket engineer Sergei Korolev, whose leadership in the Soviet space program vaulted the country ahead of the United States by launching Sputnik and later Yuri Gargarin into orbit. He spent years as a prisoner in Siberia before being released in 1944 to continue his work in aircraft design. He died in 1966 after complications from a minor operation.