The orbiter sent by the European Space Agency (ESA) and Russia’s Roscosmos captured a stunning image of the strange frozen dunes on Mars. Based on the image, the dunes look like a layer of ice cream covering the Red Planet’s surface.

The latest image from Mars was taken by the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, which was launched as part of a collaborative project between the ESA and Roscosmos. In the photo, dunes with distinct shapes can be seen across a portion of the Martian surface.

According to the ESA, aside from showing the direction of the wind, the appearance of the dunes also offer clues as to how they evolve on Mars.

“Dunes come in various characteristic shapes on Mars just as on Earth, providing clues about the prevailing wind direction,” the agency said in a statement. “Monitoring them over time also gives us a natural laboratory to study how dunes evolve, and how sediments in general are transported around the planet.”

As explained by the ESA, the unique appearance of the Martian dunes was caused by the formation of carbon dioxide ice on their surface. This occurs during the winter season on Mars’ polar regions.

Once the spring season begins, the layer of ice directly transforms into vapor. As it melts, it traps gas in between the Martian sand and the ice. The gas is then released once the layer of ice cracks, causing dark spots to form in certain parts of the dunes. This causes the contrasting appearance of dark and light spots in the photo.

Due to this phenomenon, the dunes appear like a disturbed layer of cookies-and-cream-flavored ice cream.

In addition to the strange appearance of the sand, the ExoMars orbiter was also able to photograph a unique type of dune known as a barchan.

“The image also captures barchan dunes – the crescent U-shaped dunes seen in the right of the image – as they join and merge into barchanoid ridges,” the ESA explained. “The curved tips of the barchan dunes point downwind.”

“The transition from barchan to barchanoid dunes tells us that secondary winds play a role in shaping the dune field,” the agency added.

Mars Dunes This captivating image was taken in the north polar region of Mars by the ESA/Roscosmos ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter’s CaSSIS camera. Photo: ESA/Roscosmos/CaSSIS