A closer look at one of the craters seen by ESA’s Mars Express spacecraft in a “Christmas craterscape” image of the red planet.

This story is part of Welcome to Mars, our series exploring the red planet.

The European Space Agency likes to explore the festive side of Mars around this time of year. A couple years ago, it shared a wild “angel” formation on the red planet. To celebrate in 2022, ESA released a scenic view it’s calling a “Christmas craterscape.”

Despite the name coinciding with a popular Earth holiday, the Mars image comes from May of this year. ESA’s Mars Express spacecraft snapped two large craters located near the planet’s south pole in an area called Ultimi Scopuli. 

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Here’s the full image ESA describes as a “Christmas craterscape” on Mars.


“While it may look like a winter wonderland, it was southern hemisphere spring at the time and ice was starting to retreat,” ESA said in a statement this week. “Dark dunes are peeking through the frost and elevated terrain appears ice-free.”    

The two craters stand out in the image. The distinctive striping inside is from layers of sediments and water-ice. Ridges emanate from their edges. Look closely for the dark dunes. “The dark dust is thought to originate from ancient, buried layers of volcanically erupted material. It can be found all over Mars and is easily spread by strong winds,” said ESA.

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There are some clouds in the central part of the image, likely made from water ice. While Mars isn’t famous for its cloud cover, it has been known to generate some ethereal formations in the sky, like these beauties spotted by NASA’s Curiosity rover.

Mars Express entered orbit around the red planet on Dec. 25, 2003, and has been sending back spectacular views like this one ever since. That means Christmas on Earth will mark the spacecraft’s anniversary at Mars. The double “Christmas” craters is a fitting way to celebrate the occasion.

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