SCIENCE + TECHNOLOGY

NASA images showcase eerie beauty of winter on Mars

Dec 29, 2022, 7:00 AM
Patchy carbon dioxide frost, or dry ice, can be seen inside a crater during winter in the Martian S...
Patchy carbon dioxide frost, or dry ice, can be seen inside a crater during winter in the Martian Southern Hemisphere. Photo credit: 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.

“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.

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.”

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Today’s Top Stories

Science + Technology

In the golden age of space exploration we live in, cosmic revelations seem to occur more frequently...
Ashley Strickland, CNN

Cosmic seaplanes and self-growing bricks could help us explore other worlds

In the golden age of space exploration we live in, cosmic revelations seem to occur more frequently than ever before.
3 days ago
Instagram co-founders Mike Krieger (left) and Kevin Systrom are pictured here during the 2019 SXSW ...
Jennifer Korn, CNN

Instagram’s founders are back with a new app

The Instagram founders are back with a new app.
6 days ago
FILE - This Friday, Feb. 16, 2018, file photo shows application icons from left, Facebook, Facebook...
CNN

Surgeon General says 13 is ‘too early’ to join social media

(CNN) — U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy says he believes 13 is too young for children to be on social media platforms because although sites allow children of that age to join, kids are still “developing their identity.” Meta, Twitter, and a host of other social media giants currently allow 13-year-olds to join their platforms. […]
8 days ago
artificial intelligence banjo...
Curt Gresseth

ChatGPT: Plagiarism super-tool for students or AI brainstorming generator?

Will the future of AI be the interactive chatbot ChatGPT helping cheaters ace exams and tests or a new tool to assist all students in learning?
12 days ago
PayPal...
Curt Gresseth

Banks to launch app to compete with Apple Pay and Venmo

Banks are launching a new app for online money transfers that customers can trust to protect their finances.
13 days ago
Earth core structure. Elements of this image furnished by NASA (Adobe stock)...
Lianne Kolirin, CNN

Earth’s inner core may have stopped turning and could go into reverse, study suggests

With a radius of almost 2,200 miles, Earth's core is about the size of Mars. It consists mostly of iron and nickel, and contains about about one-third of Earth's mass.
13 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Skier being towed by a rider on a horse. Skijoring....
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Looking for a New Winter Activity? Try Skijoring in Bear Lake

This article about skijoring is sponsored by the Bear Lake Convention & Visitors Bureau. Participate in Skijoring the Bear on February 20th, 2023.  What is skijoring? Skijoring is when someone on skis is pulled by a horse, dog, animal, or motor vehicle. The driver leads the skiers through an obstacle course over jumps, hoops, and […]
Banner with Cervical Cancer Awareness Realistic Ribbon...
Intermountain Health

Five Common Causes of Cervical Cancer – and What You Can Do to Lower Your Risk

January is National Cervical Cancer Awareness month and cancer experts at Intermountain Health are working to educate women about cervical cancer, the tests that can warn women about potential cancer, and the importance of vaccination.
Kid holding a cisco fish at winterfest...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Get Ready for Fun at the 2023 Bear Lake Monster Winterfest

The Bear Lake Monster Winterfest is an annual weekend event jam-packed full of fun activities the whole family can enjoy. This year the event will be held from January 27-29 at the Utah Bear Lake State Park Marina and Sunrise Resort and Event Center in Garden City, Utah. 
happy friends with sparklers at christmas dinner...
Macey's

15 Easy Christmas Dinner Ideas

We’ve scoured the web for you and narrowed down a few of our favorite Christmas dinner ideas to make your planning easy. Choose from the dishes we’ve highlighted to plan your meal or start brainstorming your own meal plan a couple of weeks before to make sure you have time to shop and prepare.
Spicy Homemade Loaded Taters Tots...
Macey's

5 Game Day Snacks for the Whole Family (with recipes!)

Try these game day snacks to make watching football at home with your family feel like a special occasion. 
Happy joyful smiling casual satisfied woman learning and communicates in sign language online using...
Sorenson

The Best Tools for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Workplace Success

Here are some of the best resources to make your workplace work better for Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees.
NASA images showcase eerie beauty of winter on Mars