This is one of over 10,000 new Mars images released last week by NASA. This photo shows a wide angle view of the planet's north polar cap. The light-toned surfaces are residual water ice that remains through the summer season.

Like a celebrity under constant photographic scrutiny, Mars continues to show fresh and surprising faces. And as with an enigmatic Hollywood star, more than 10,000 new images of the red planet reveal more puzzles than answers.

“Mars just keeps astounding us with its complexity,” said Ken Edgett, staff scientist for Malin Space Science Systems, which built and operates the Mars Orbiter Camera aboard NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor.

The new images bring the mission’s total online gallery to more than 134,000. The geographic diversity in the photographs shows an equal diversity of processes that sculpt the planet, Edgett and his colleagues said last week.

Among the pictures is one that reveals swirling textures referred to as taffy-pull terrain. Another is of wind-whipped polar dunes that one lay observer recently likened to the Pacman gaming character. In other pictures, steep-sided valleys contain the scars of past flowing water or lava, but nobody knows which.

The newest group of MGS images, released last week, was taken between August of 2002 and February of this year. The pictures show surface details down to the size of a truck.

MGS has been orbiting Mars for 6 years. A sister craft, Mars Odyssey, also circles the red planet. The probes will be joined this winter by three surface rovers, one from the European Space Agency and two from NASA.

In 2005, NASA plans to launch a “dream machine” called Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). It is expected to generate pictures of scope and detail unlike anything currently possible.

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