NASA Explores Martian Winter Wonderland – Otherworldly Vacation Scene With Dice-Formed Snow

NASA Explores Martian Winter Wonderland – Otherworldly Vacation Scene With Dice-Formed Snow

A winter wonderland on Mars

Dice-shaped snow, icy landscapes and frost are all a part of the coldest season on the Purple Planet.

When winter comes[{” attribute=””>Mars, the surface is transformed into a truly otherworldly holiday scene. Snow, ice, and frost accompany the season’s sub-zero temperatures. Some of the coldest of these occur at the planet’s poles, where it gets as low as minus 190 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 123 degrees Celsius).

Frosted Dunes in the Depths of Winter on Mars

The HiRISE camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured these images of sand dunes covered by frost just after winter solstice. The frost here is a mixture of carbon dioxide (dry) ice and water ice and will disappear in a few months when spring arrives. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

Cold as it is, don’t expect snow drifts worthy of the Rocky Mountains. No region of Mars gets more than a few feet of snow, most of which falls over extremely flat areas. And the Red Planet’s elliptical orbit means it takes many more months for winter to come around: a single Mars year is around two Earth years.

Snow, ice, and hoarfrost additionally fall on Mars.[{” attribute=””>NASA’s spacecraft on and orbiting the Red Planet reveal the similarities to and differences from how we experience winter on Earth. Mars scientist Sylvain Piqueux of JPL explains in this video. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Still, the planet offers unique winter phenomena that scientists have been able to study, thanks to NASA’s robotic Mars explorers. Here are a few of the things they’ve discovered:

Two Kinds of Snow

Martian snow comes in two varieties: water ice and carbon dioxide, or dry ice. Because Martian air is so thin and the temperatures so cold, water-ice snow sublimates, or becomes a gas, before it even touches the ground. Dry-ice snow actually does reach the ground.

“Enough falls that you could snowshoe across it,” said Sylvain Piqueux, a Mars scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California whose research includes a variety of winter phenomena. “If you were looking for skiing, though, you’d have to go into a crater or cliffside, where snow could build up on a sloped surface.”

Seasonal Changes of Polar Megadunes on Mars

HiRISE captured these “megadunes,” also called barchans. Carbon dioxide frost and ice have formed over the dunes during the winter; as this starts to sublimate during spring, the darker-colored dune sand is revealed. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

How We Know It Snows

Snow occurs only at the coldest extremes of Mars: at the poles, under cloud cover, and at night. Cameras on orbiting spacecraft can’t see through those clouds, and surface missions can’t survive in the extreme cold. As a result, no images of falling snow have ever been captured. But scientists know it happens, thanks to a few special science instruments.

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter can peer through cloud cover using its Mars Climate Sounder instrument, which detects light in wavelengths imperceptible to the human eye. That ability has allowed scientists to detect carbon dioxide snow falling to the ground. And in 2008, NASA sent the Phoenix lander within 1,000 miles (about 1,600 kilometers) of Mars’ north pole, where it used a laser instrument to detect water-ice snow falling to the surface.

NASA scientists can measure the scale and form of snow particle distribution layer by layer throughout a storm. The World Precipitation Measurement mission is a world satellite tv for pc undertaking that gives the following technology of rain and snow observations worldwide each three hours. Credit score: NASA Goddard House Flight Middle/Ryan Fitzgibbons

Cubic snowflakes

Due to the best way water molecules bond collectively once they freeze, snowflakes on Earth have six sides. The identical precept applies to all crystals: the best way the atoms are organized determines the form of the crystal. Within the case of carbon dioxide, the molecules in dry ice at all times mix into 4 kinds when frozen.

“As a result of carbon dioxide has four-fold symmetry, we all know that dry ice snowflakes will probably be cube-shaped,” Piquet stated. “Due to the Mars Local weather Sounder, we are able to inform these snowflakes will probably be smaller than the width of a human hair.”

Mars is cold as ice

The HiRISE digital camera captured this picture of the crater rim in the course of winter. The crater’s southern slope, which receives much less daylight, has shaped a mottled vivid frost, seen in blue on this color-enhanced picture. Credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech/College of Arizona

Jack Frost bites your rover

Water and carbon dioxide can kind frost on Mars, and each forms of frost are rather more widespread on the planet than snow. The Viking landers noticed frost once they studied Mars within the Nineteen Seventies, whereas NASA’s Odyssey orbiter the formation and sublimation of frost was noticed morning solar

Mars Spring fans and landfills

HiRISE captured this spring scene, when water ice frozen into the soil cut up the bottom into polygons. The translucent carbon dioxide permits daylight to shine by way of and warmth the gases escaping by way of the vents, releasing darker materials onto the floor of the followers (proven in blue on this color-enhanced picture). Credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech/College of Arizona

A beautiful finish to winter

Maybe essentially the most fabulous discovery happens on the finish of winter, when all of the gathered ice begins to “thaw” and sublimate into the ambiance. On the similar time, this ice acquires whimsical and delightful kinds that remind scientists spiders, Dalmatian spots, Scrambled eggsand Swiss cheese.

This “thaw” additionally causes geysers to erupt: the clear ice permits daylight to warmth the gasoline beneath, and that gasoline ultimately erupts, sending mud lovers on the floor. Scientists have really began finding out these followers to be taught extra about them which manner the Martian winds blow.

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