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The European Space Agency's (ESA) Mars Express satellite has sent home spectacular Christmas card images from the Red Planet.

The Korolev crater is an 82km-wide (50 mile) impact crater near the planet's north pole.

It contains an estimated 2,200 cubic kilometres of water ice, frozen up to an estimated 2km (1.2 miles) deep.

ESA's Mars Express mission launched back in 2003. It went into orbit around Mars on Christmas Day of that year, making this month the 15-year anniversary of the beginning of its science programme.

The beautiful Christmas card image and two others are "an excellent celebration of such a milestone", according to ESA.

They were taken by the Mars Express High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) and the view they offer of the Korolev crater is composed of five different "strips" which have been combined to form a single image.

Each strip was gathered over a different orbit, and the images cover perspective, context, and topographic views, all of which ESA says offer a more complete view of the terrain in and around the crater.

Image: Plan view of 82km-wide Korolev crater on Mars. Pic: ESA

The crater is named after Sergei Korolev, the chief rocket engineer and spacecraft designer, known as the father of Soviet space technology.

Mr Korolev worked on a number of well-known missions including the Sputnik programme – the first artificial satellites sent into orbit around the Earth in 1957.

Topography view of 82km-wide Korolev crater on Mars. Pic: ESA
Image: Topography view of 82km-wide Korolev crater on Mars. Pic: ESA

The pictures come just weeks after NASA's InSight rover successfully landed on the surface of Mars and sent back a selfie.

The spacecraft took the snap of the Red Planet using a camera fixed on its robotic arm.

More from Science & Tech

InSight takes a 'selfie' on the surface of Mars using a camera on its robotic arm
Image: InSight takes a 'selfie' on the surface of Mars using a camera on its robotic arm

The rocky surface of Mars can be clearly seen with the Insight rover in the foreground.

It had touched down after seven months and more than 300 million miles and at a cost of a billion dollars.

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