Transient bright "halos" on the South Polar Residual Cap of Mars: Implications for mass-balance

Patricio Becerra, Shane Byrne, Adrian J. Brown

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Spacecraft imaging of Mars' south polar region during mid-southern summer of Mars year 28 (2007) observed bright halo-like features surrounding many of the pits, scarps and slopes of the heavily eroded carbon dioxide ice of the South Polar Residual Cap (SPRC). These features had not been observed before, and have not been observed since. We report on the results of an observational study of these halos, and spectral modeling of the SPRC surface at the time of their appearance. Image analysis was performed using data from MRO's Context Camera (CTX), and High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE), as well as images from Mars Global Surveyor's (MGS) Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC). Data from MRO's Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) were used for the spectral analysis of the SPRC ice at the time of the halos. These data were compared with a Hapke reflectance model of the surface to constrain their formation mechanism. We find that the unique appearance of the halos is intimately linked to a near-perihelion global dust storm that occurred shortly before they were observed. The combination of vigorous summertime sublimation of carbon dioxide ice from sloped surfaces on the SPRC and simultaneous settling of dust from the global storm, resulted in a sublimation wind that deflected settling dust particles away from the edges of these slopes, keeping these areas relatively free of dust compared to the rest of the cap. The fact that the halos were not exhumed in subsequent years indicates a positive mass-balance for flat portions of the SPRC in those years. A net accumulation mass-balance on flat surfaces of the SPRC is required to preserve the cap, as it is constantly being eroded by the expansion of the pits and scarps that populate its surface.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)211-225
Number of pages15
StatePublished - May 1 2015


  • Ices
  • Mars
  • Mars, polar caps
  • Mars, polar geology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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