Mars Experiences Intense Snowstorms At Night, Study Finds

Posted: Aug 26 2017, 2:05pm CDT | by , Updated: Aug 26 2017, 2:07pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News

Mars Experiences Intense Snowstorms at Night, Study Finds
Credit: NASA/JPL

The night-time weather was detected by NASA's Phoenix lander and the spacecraft orbiting Mars

Mars is known for its intense dust storms, which can last for several weeks and sometimes cover the entire planet.

Now, a new study suggests that Mars may experience snowstorms as well. And these violent snowstorms form only at night. The finding is important when considering the ambitious plans to colonize Mars in the near future.

Mars is a dry place with virtually no liquid water or moisture on its surface. But its atmosphere can still develop water ice clouds. When the sun goes down and temperature drops, clouds release heat and contribute to make snow crystals. Though the snowfall is no way near as much as we see on Earth, it is more like a layer of frost and does not last too long as well. But snow on Mars falls fairly rapidly. It could probably take just 5 to 10 minutes to accumulate 1 or 2 kilometer snow.

This night-time phenomenon has been detected by a spacecraft orbiting Mars, especially over the northern polar region. NASA’s Phoenix lander also noticed the signs of snow while scooping up samples from Martian surface in 2008. The latest work is based on observations of both these vehicles.

“It’s the first time anyone has shown that snowstorms, or water-ice microbursts, occur presently on Mars. Any snow particles formed were thought to fall only very slowly through their own weight.” Study author Aymeric Spiga from University Pierre and Marie Curie in Paris, told New Scientist.

To explain these findings, researchers developed atmospheric models and simulated the weather on Mars. It took them almost four years to build a model sophisticated enough to recreate clouds and weather on Mars.

“We use meteorological numerical models akin to the models used for numerical weather prediction on the Earth and we adapt those models to Mars by developing sophisticated models suitable for the Martian atmosphere.” Spiga told Daily Mail.

Model further suggests that these intense snowstorms are driven by strong gusts of wind. Cooling of water-ice cloud particles during the cold Martian night can create unstable conditions in clouds and generate strong winds.

“By radiating energy, the clouds cause the surrounding air to cool more rapidly, which leads to more cloud growth and ultimately snowfall.” Paul Hayne of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory told National Geographic.

If the models are correct, this would mean genuine snow on Mars just like that on Earth.

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