Mars spacecraft spots “angelic figure” near south Pole ahead of Christmas

Images were captured by the European Space Agency's Mars Express

SOPHIE LEWIS/CBS NEWS

While Santa is gearing up for Christmas on Earth at earth’s North Pole, angels are getting into the holiday spirit on Mars’ south pole. A spacecraft has spotted an “angelic figure” and a large heart at the Martian south pole, just a week before Christmas. 

This week, the High-Resolution Stereo Camera on the European Space Agency’s Mars Express captured the “defined wings of an angelic figure, complete with halo,” as well as a large heart next to it. The pair of festive silhouettes appear bright red, in stark contrast to the light tan color of the Martian sand surrounding them. 

This image provides a perspective view of a pair of festive silhouettes – an angel (left) and a heart (right) spotted by ESA’s Mars Exrpress near Mars’ south pole. It compromises data gathered by ESA’s Mars Express on November 8, 2020. BJÖRN SCHREINER 2020 @ FU BERLIN

According to the space agency, the dark color is due to the composition of the sand dunes, which are made up of minerals also found on Earth, such as pyroxene and olivine. 

The south pole itself, currently experiencing summer, is located to the right of the ethereal scene, just out of frame. During the Martian winter, the region would be blanketed in a mile-thick and 250 mile-wide ice cap — but, right now, ice stores are at their lowest annual levels. 

Officials said that the angel’s hand, which appears to be reaching to the left, is possibly a large sublimation pit — a depression in the surface of the planet that forms as ice turns to gas in the summer months. 

This image provides a perspective view of a heart-shaped silhouette spotted by ESA’s Mars Express near Mars’ south pole. BJÖRN SCHREINER 2020 @ FU BERLIN

The angel’s head and halo appear to have formed when a celestial object slammed into the planet, revealing subsurface layers that provide a glimpse into Mars’ long history. The heart is the result of a line of cliffs that formed due to erosion. 

The picturesque landscape also features Martian dust devils to the left of the figure. Dust devils, common on the red planet, form as strong winds stir up dust from the surface. 

Mars’ south pole has been in the spotlight in recent months after scientists detected three new underground lakes — and the possibility of many more — indicating the potential for the existence of microbial life.