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NASA catches a Mars avalanche red-handed

See the epic dust cloud kicked up by falling ice on Mars.


The massive dust cloud can be seen in the upper left.

NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Good thing you're on planet Earth. NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has caught sight of a massive avalanche of ice on the red planet. On Tuesday, the University of Arizona team behind the orbiter's HiRise camera highlighted the event by releasing an image.

"Every spring the sun shines on the side of the stack of layers at the North Pole of Mars known as the north polar layered deposits," wrote planetary scientist Candy Hansen. "The warmth destabilizes the ice and blocks break loose."

Those ice blocks took a swan dive down a 1,640-foot (500-meter) cliff face and triggered a huge dust cloud in the process in May. That cloud is on full display in the image released this week.

The MRO and its HiRise camera are the science gift that keeps on giving. It has been in orbit around the red planet since 2006, delivering images of Mars' fascinating terrain. The spacecraft has even been scoping out potential landing sites for the SpaceX Starship, which is still far from a potential Mars mission.