Ice on Mars: The Red Planet is going through an Ice Age

Data collected by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter suggests the Red Planet is going through an ice age.

Michelle Starr Science editor
Michelle Starr is CNET's science editor, and she hopes to get you as enthralled with the wonders of the universe as she is. When she's not daydreaming about flying through space, she's daydreaming about bats.
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This mosaic was created from images taken by the High Resolution Stereo Camera onboard the ESA's Mars Express. It shows spiral patterns used to interpret the ice's advance and retreat.

ESA/DLR/FU-Berlin/Ralf Jaumann

Mars is going through an ice age, according to a new study. Based on radar data collected by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, researchers at the Southwest Research Institute have found an increase in ice at Mars' north pole is consistent with the long-term drop in temperature associated with an ice age.

"We found an accelerated accumulation rate of ice in the uppermost 100 to 300 metres of the polar cap," said the SwRI's Isaac Smith, lead author of a paper published the journal Science, in a statement. "The volume and thickness of ice matches model predictions from the early 2000s."

Similar factors cause ice ages on both Earth and Mars, namely long-term changes in the orbit and tilt of the planet. Mars' tilt, however, changes much more wildly, up to 60 degrees on the scale of hundreds of thousands to millions of years. Earth's tilt only changes by about two percent on the same timescale. On Mars, the exaggerated tilt determines how much sunlight reaches certain regions.

These results will help understand Earth's climate better, as well as provide valuable information for human exploration on Mars.