WORLD NEWS

NASA images showcase eerie beauty of winter on Mars

Dec 28, 2022, 5:07 PM
red sand dunes with blue hints...
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured an image of frost-covered Martian dunes far north of the equator two days after the winter solstice arrived on Mars in July. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona)
(NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona)

(CNN) — Mars may seem like a dry, desolate place, but the red planet transforms into an otherworldly wonderland in winter, according to a new video shared by NASA.

It’s late winter in Mars’ Northern Hemisphere, where the Perseverance rover and Ingenuity helicopter are exploring an ancient river delta that once fed into Jezero Crater billions of years ago.

As the planet’s main feature, dust also drives Martian weather. Dust usually heralds winter’s arrival, but the planet is no stranger to snow, ice and frost. At the Martian poles, the temperature can dip as low as minus 190 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 123 degrees Celsius).

There are two types of snow on Mars. One is the kind we experience on Earth, made of frozen water. The thin Martian air and subzero temperatures mean that traditional snow sublimates, or transitions from a solid directly to a gas, before touching the ground on Mars.

The other type of Martian snow is carbon dioxide-based, or dry ice, and it can land on the surface. A few feet of snow tend to fall on Mars in its flat regions near the poles.

red sand crater with hints of blue

Patchy carbon dioxide frost, or dry ice, can be seen inside a crater during winter in the Martian Southern Hemisphere. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona)

“Enough falls that you could snowshoe across it,” said Sylvain Piqueux, a Mars scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, in a statement from a NASA release. “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.”

So far, no orbiters or rovers have been able to see snow fall on the red planet because the weather phenomenon only occurs at the poles beneath cloud cover at night. The cameras on the orbiters can’t peer through the clouds, and no robotic explorers have been developed that could survive the freezing temperatures at the poles.

INTERACTIVE: Mars and other places to search for life in the solar system

However, the Mars Climate Sounder instrument on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter can detect light that’s invisible to the human eye. It has made detections of carbon dioxide snow falling at the Martian poles. The Phoenix lander, which arrived on Mars in 2008, also used one of its laser instruments to detect water-ice snow from its spot about 1,000 miles (1,609 kilometers) away from the Martian north pole.

Thanks to photographers, we know snowflakes on Earth are unique and six-sided. Beneath a microscope, Martian snowflakes would likely look a little different.

“Because carbon dioxide ice has a symmetry of four, we know dry-ice snowflakes would be cube-shaped,” Piqueux said. “Thanks to the Mars Climate Sounder, we can tell these snowflakes would be smaller than the width of a human hair.”

Ice and carbon dioxide-based frosts also form on Mars, and they can occur farther away from the poles. The Odyssey orbiter (which entered Mars’ orbit in 2001) has watched frost forming and turning to a gas in the sunlight, while the Viking landers spotted icy frost on Mars when they arrived in the 1970s.

red sand with blue hints

Ice frozen in the soil left polygon patterns on the Martian surface. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona)

At the end of winter, the season’s buildup of ice can thaw and turn into gas, creating unique shapes that have reminded NASA scientists of Swiss cheese, Dalmatian spots, fried eggs, spiders and other unusual formations.

During winter in Jezero Crater, recent high temperatures have been about 8 F (minus 13 C), while lows been about minus 120 F (minus 84 C).

Meanwhile, at Gale Crater in the Southern Hemisphere near the Martian equator, the Curiosity rover, which landed on Mars in 2012, has been experiencing highs of 5 F (minus 15 C) and lows of minus 105 F (minus 76 C).

Seasons on Mars tend to last longer because the planet’s oval-shaped orbit around the sun means that a single Martian year is 687 days, or nearly two Earth years.

NASA scientists celebrated the Mars new year on December 26, which coincided with the arrival of the spring equinox in the Northern Hemisphere.

“Scientists count Mars years starting from the planet’s northern spring equinox that occurred in 1955 — an arbitrary point to begin, but it’s useful to have a system,” according to a post on the NASA Mars Facebook page. “Numbering Mars years helps scientists keep track of long term observations, like weather data collected by NASA spacecraft over the decades.”

red sand with blue hints

Thawing frost created unique patterns on Martian dunes during spring in July 2021. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona)


The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

World News

An Egyptian archeologist speaks at a recently discovered tomb dated to the Old Kingdom, 2700–2200...
MOHAMED WAGDY

Egypt unveils tombs and sarcophagus in new excavation

Egypt on Thursday unveiled dozens of new archaeological discoveries, including two ancient tombs, at a Pharaonic necropolis just outside of the capital Cairo.
3 days ago
A Yanomami youth carries a toddler on his shoulders at the Saude Indigenous House, a center respons...
Eleoneore Hughes and Edmar Barros, Associated Press

Why Brazil’s Yanomami are being decimated by disease, mining

Severe malnutrition and disease, particularly malaria, are decimating the Yanomami population in Brazil's Amazon rainforest, and on Jan. 20 the federal government declared a public health emergency.
3 days ago
Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, tours a neighborhood in Kharkiv ...
Hanna Arhirova, Associated Press

Russian attacks on Ukraine reported; tank training to start

Ukrainian officials say Russia has launched a new wave of missile and self-exploding drone attacks on the country.
4 days ago
woman leans off skyscraper for video content...
Larry D. Curtis

Sundance: ‘Fantastic Machine’ entertains while examining relationship between humans and camera

While the Utah's political leaders grapple with laws to combat the dangers of social media, Utah's Sundance Film Festival premiered "Fantastic Machine," turning the camera lens not only the camera but what it has meant to humans — spoiler: it has drastically changed us.
5 days ago
U.S. M1/A1 Abrams tanks...
TARA COPP and LOLITA BALDOR Associated Press

Why the US flipped on sending tanks to Ukraine

For months, U.S. officials balked at sending M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, insisting they were too complicated and too hard to maintain and repair.
5 days ago
This diagram made available by NASA shows the estimated trajectory of asteroid 2023 BU, in red, aff...
Marcia Dunn, AP Aerospace Writer

Asteroid coming exceedingly close to Earth, but will miss

An asteroid the size of a delivery truck will whip past Earth on Thursday night, one of the closest encounters ever recorded.
5 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Fiber Optical cables connected to an optic ports and Network cables connected to ethernet ports...
Brian Huston, CE and Anthony Perkins, BICSI

Why Every Business Needs a Structured Cabling System

A structured cabling system benefits businesses by giving you faster processing speeds and making your network more efficient and reliable.
notebook with password notes highlighted...
PC Laptops

How to Create Strong Passwords You Can Actually Remember

Learn how you can create strong passwords that are actually easy to remember! In a short time you can create new ones in seconds.
house with for rent sign posted...
Chase Harrington, president and COO of Entrata

Top 5 Reasons You May Want to Consider Apartment Life Over Owning a Home

There are many benefits of renting that can be overshadowed by the allure of buying a home. Here are five reasons why renting might be right for you.
Festive kitchen in Christmas decorations. Christmas dining room....
Lighting Design

6 Holiday Decor Trends to Try in 2022

We've rounded out the top 6 holiday decor trends for 2022 so you can be ahead of the game before you start shopping. 
Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to Choose What MBA Program is Right for You: Take this Quiz Before You Apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Diverse Group of Energetic Professionals Team Meeting in Modern Office: Brainstorming IT Programmer...
Les Olson

Don’t Let a Ransomware Attack Get You Down | Protect Your Workplace Today with Cyber Insurance

Business owners and operators should be on guard to protect their workplace. Cyber insurance can protect you from online attacks.
NASA images showcase eerie beauty of winter on Mars