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Polygonal patterned ground

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The bottom of the McMurdo Dry Valleys, one of the very few iceless regions in this continent, is strewn with polygonal ground patterns rather like holes in a driedup pond. The extreme variations of temperature between summer and winter, when Antarctica is enveloped in six months of night and the temperature drops some 90°F (50°C), cause the ice deep down in the soil alternately to freeze and melt, thus creating this extraordinary mineral tapestry. The reason for these polygonal formations has never been fully explained, but their location has been pinpointed very precisely: they occur where the ground is permanently frozen, both in Antarctica and in the Arctic. Planet Earth does not, however, have a monopoly on these designs: pictures of Mars taken by the Mars Global Surveyor and by the rovers Spirit and Opportunity strikingly reveal identical polygonal patterns in the polar regions of the Red Planet, but on a colossal scale; the polygons measure several miles across, compared to the 30 to 100 feet (10 to 30 m) of those on Earth.


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