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Bright, frosty polar caps, and clouds above a vivid, rust-colored landscape reveal Mars as a dynamic seasonal planet in this Hubble image taken on May 12, 2016, when Mars was 50 million miles from Earth.
The large, dark region at far right is Syrtis Major Planitia, one of the first features identified on the surface of the planet by seventeenth century observers. Christiaan Huygens used this feature to measure the rotation rate of Mars. (A Martian day is about 24 hours and 37 minutes.) Today we know that Syrtis Major is an ancient, inactive shield volcano. Late-afternoon clouds surround its summit in this view.
A large oval feature to the south of Syrtis Major is the bright Hellas Planitia basin. About 1,100 miles across and nearly five miles deep, it was formed about 3.5 billion years ago by an asteroid impact. The orange area in the center of the image is Arabia Terra, a vast upland region in northern Mars that covers about 2,800 miles.
An extended blanket of clouds can be seen over the southern polar cap. The icy northern polar cap has receded to a comparatively small size because it is now late summer in the northern hemisphere.
This observation was made just a few days before Mars opposition on May 22, when the sun and Mars were on exact opposite sides of Earth. Mars is especially photogenic during opposition because it can be seen fully illuminated by the sun as viewed from Earth. Learn more at HubbleSite's NewsCenter.