Winter wonderland on Mars: NASA captures cube-shaped snowflakes and frosty megadunes on the Red Planet
- Winter on Mars is not like those we are used to on Earth
- Temperatures at the planet’s poles drop to freezing minus 190 degrees Fahrenheit
- NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured stunning images of winter scenes on the Red Planet
- Martian snow comes in two flavors: water ice and carbon dioxide, or dry ice
Winter on March turns the Red Planet into something spectacular, but it’s not quite like the holiday scene from a Hallmark greeting card.
Temperatures at the planet’s poles are dropping to freezing lows of minus 190 degrees Fahrenheit.
Although humans are years away from colonizing Mars, NASA robotic rovers on the planet reveal some findings about the cold season.
The HiRISE camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured these images of frost-covered sand dunes just after the winter solstice
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has been in orbit for over 16 years and has returned over 436 terabits of data to NASA.
MARCH: THE BASICS
Mars is the fourth planet from the sun, with a dusty, cold and “nearly dead” desert world with a very thin atmosphere.
Mars is also a dynamic planet with seasons, polar caps, canyons, extinct volcanoes, and evidence that it was even more active in the past.
It is one of the most explored planets in the solar system and the only planet that humans have sent rovers to explore.
A day on Mars lasts just over 24 hours and a year has 687 Earth days.
Facts and figures
Orbital period: 687 days
Area: 55.91 million mi²
distance from the sun: 145 million miles
Gravity: 3.721 m/s²
Ray: 2,106 miles
Moons: Phobos, Deimos
It weighed 4,800 pounds at launch and its mission was to search for evidence that water once flowed on the surface of Mars.
Martian snow comes in two flavors: water ice and carbon dioxide, or dry ice. The former usually dissipates before hitting the ground while the latter reaches the surface.
Snow occurs in the coldest parts of the planet – where surface missions cannot survive – so we don’t have photographs of snow falling on Mars.
Snowflakes on Earth have six sides due to the way water molecules bond together. But on Mars, it’s different.
With carbon dioxide, the molecules in dry ice bind together in a four-like shape when frozen, according to NASA.
“Because carbon dioxide ice has a symmetry of four, we know that dry ice snowflakes would be cube-shaped,” said Sylvain Piqueux, a Mars scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. , whose research includes a variety of winter phenomena. statement.
“Thanks to the Mars Climate Sounder, we can tell that these snowflakes would be smaller than the width of a human hair.”
‘Sufficient [snow] falls that you could cross on snowshoes,” added Piqueux.
Late winter brings its own visually stunning vistas.
The accumulated ice begins to “defrost”, taking on unique shapes that scientists say look like everything from fried eggs to swiss cheese.
HiRISE captured these “megadunes”, also called barchans. Hoarfrost and carbon dioxide ice formed on the dunes during the winter; as it begins to sublimate in the spring, the sand of the darker colored dunes is revealed
The HiRISE camera captured this image of the rim of a crater in the dead of winter. The south-facing slope of the crater, which receives less sunlight, has formed an uneven, shiny rime, visible in blue in this enhanced color image
According to the US space agency, the thaw also causes geysers to erupt.
“The translucent ice allows sunlight to heat the gas underneath, and that gas eventually erupts, sending fans of dust to the surface. Scientists have actually started studying these ventilators to find out more.
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