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Pits in south polar ice cap, taken in consecutive southern hemisphere summers, the first of which was in 1999, the second in 2001. Mars Global Surveyor, NASA

Swiss cheese features (SCFs) are curious pits in the south polar ice cap of Mars (Mare Australe quadrangle) and were first identified in 2000 using Mars Orbiter Camera imagery.[1] They are typically a few hundred meters across, have a flat base with steep sides, and are shallow, typical depth is 8 metres. They tend to have similar bean-like shapes, with a cusp which points towards the south pole, indicating insolation is involved in their formation. The round shape is probably aided in its formation by the angle of the sun. In the summer, the sun moves around the sky, sometimes for 24 hours each day, just above the horizon. As a result the walls of a round depression will receive more intense sunlight then the floor; the wall will melt far more than the floor. The walls melt and receed, while the floor remains the same. [2] As the seasonal frost disappears their walls appear to darken considerably relative to the surrounding terrain. Due to the way that the SCFs have been observed to grow in size, year by year, at an average rate of 1 to 3 meters, it is hypothesised that they are formed in a thin layer (8m) of carbon dioxide ice lying on top of water ice. [3]

See also


  1. ^ Thomas; et al. (2000). Science.  
  2. ^ Hartmann, W. 2003. A Traveler's Guide to Mars. Workman Publishing. NY NY.
  3. ^ Byrne, S.; Ingersoll, A. P.. "A Sublimation Model for the Formation of the Martian Polar Swiss-cheese Features". American Astronomical Society. Retrieved 2007-02-22.  


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