NASA Images Showcase eerie Beauty of Winter on Mars

ATLANTA — NASA has shared a new video that shows how, in the winter, Mars changes from a dry and barren place to a strange and beautiful place.

It is late winter in the Northern Hemisphere of Mars, and the Perseverance rover and the Ingenuity helicopter are exploring an old river delta that fed Jezero Crater billions of years ago.

Dust is the main thing on Mars and controls the weather there. Dust usually means that winter is coming, but the planet has seen snow, ice, and frost. At the poles of Mars, it can get as cold as -190 degrees Fahrenheit.

On Mars, there are two kinds of snow. The first kind is the kind we see on Earth, which is made of frozen water. Because the air on Mars is so thin and cold, traditional snow sublimates or changes directly from a solid to a gas before it hits the ground.

NASA Images Showcase eerie Beauty of Winter on Mars
NASA Images Showcase eerie Beauty of Winter on Mars

The other kind of snow on Mars is made of carbon dioxide and is called dry ice. It can also fall to the ground. It tends to snow a few feet near the poles where Mars is flat.

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In a NASA release, Sylvain Piqueux, a Mars scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said, “There are enough snowfalls that you could snowshoe across it.” “If you wanted to ski, you’d have to go to a crater or cliffside where snow could build up on a sloped surface.”

So far, neither orbiters nor rovers have been able to see snow on Mars because it only snows at the poles at night, when clouds cover the sky. The orbiters’ cameras can’t see through the clouds, and no robot explorers can handle the cold temperatures at the poles.

But the Mars Climate Sounder instrument on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter can see a light that we can’t. It has been found that carbon dioxide snow is falling at the poles of Mars. The Phoenix lander, which landed on Mars in 2008, also used one of its laser instruments to find water-ice snow from its location about 1,000 miles from the north pole of Mars.

Because of photographers, we know that each snowflake on Earth has six sides and is unique. If you looked at snowflakes from Mars through a microscope, they might look a little different.

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

Frosts made of ice and carbon dioxide can also form on Mars and can happen farther from the poles. The Odyssey orbiter, which went into orbit around Mars in 2001, has seen frost form and turn into a gas in the sunlight. In the 1970s, the Viking landers saw icy frost on Mars.

At the end of winter, the ice built over the season can melt and turn into gas. This can make strange shapes that NASA scientists have compared to Swiss cheese, Dalmatian spots, fried eggs, spiders, etc.

Recent highs at Jezero Crater in the winter have been around 8 F, while recent lows have been around -120 F. The Curiosity rover, which landed on Mars in 2012, has been experiencing highs of 5 F and lows of -105 F at Gale Crater in the Southern Hemisphere near the equator.

Because Mars goes around the sun in an oval shape, one Martian year is 687 days, almost as long as two Earth years. This makes the seasons on Mars last longer. On Dec. 26, NASA scientists celebrated the new year on Mars. This was the same day that the spring equinox began in the Northern Hemisphere.

The NASA Mars Facebook page post says, “Scientists count Mars years from the planet’s northern spring equinox in 1955. This is a random place to start, but it’s useful to have a system.” “Numbering Mars years help scientists keep track of long-term observations, like weather data collected by NASA spacecraft over many years.”

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