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tMars spacecraft spots 'angelic figure' near red planet's south pole

The European Space Agency was in a holiday mood when it noticed an angel and a heart on Mars.

Apply a little imagination to this ESA Mars Express view of the red planet's south pole and you'll see an angel and a heart together.

Santa might live at the North Pole on Earth, but there's an angel near the south pole on Mars. 

The European Space Agency looked at a view of the red planet captured by its Mars Express spacecraft and spotted an ethereal shape in the surface formations. "The defined wings of an angelic figure, complete with halo, can be seen sweeping up and off the top of the frame in this image," ESA said in a statement on Thursday.

The space agency also pointed out a heart shape below the angel's wing. The deep colors are due to the dark sands in this Martian dune field.

There's quite a bit of geology on display in this image. The angel's "hand" off to the left is likely a sublimation pit, a seasonal feature that occurs when ice turns into vapor, leaving a noticeable depression behind. It's the same phenomenon that made part of Mars look like a '70s shag carpet in a 2018 NASA image.

These enhanced colors highlight the topography of the angle and heart formations on Mars.


"The 'head' and halo are formed of an impact crater, created as a body from space flew inwards to collide with Mars' crust," said ESA. This impact left multiple layers of deposits on display, give us a peek below the surface.   

Fine, scratch-like marks in the surrounding landscape are telltale signs of dust devil action on the windy planet.

The science is fascinating and ESA's imaginative interpretation of the shapes is a fitting way to mark the holiday season. It's also quite a bit more charming than spotting Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo from South Park on Jupiter.