Scientists discover that Mars experiences blizzards during frozen nights

23 Aug 2017

Image: Dotted Yeti//Shutterstock

As temperatures plunge during the night, the Red Planet experiences periods of intense blizzards.

New analysis of Mars shows that, quite often, the weather outside is frightful, with intense snowstorms and howling winds.

In a paper recently published to Nature Geoscience, a team led by French planetary scientists discovered more details about the planet’s weather, including the first evidence of “water-ice microbursts” – or snow, as we know it.

Future Human

The first suggestion that snow might occur today on the Red Planet was raised back in 2008 when NASA’s Phoenix lander spotted a few falling flakes, backing up previously held theories.

This time, using the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft, Aymeric Spiga and his team from University Pierre and Marie Curie in Paris trawled through a decade worth of data to find evidence of water-ice clouds.

Snowmen on Mars?

According to New Scientist, one of the observations taken by the spacecraft showed an example of a ‘virga’ snowfall – when solid snow evaporates into gas as it falls to the surface.

The study also found that snowstorms occur almost exclusively during Martian nightfall as the planet’s clouds cool rapidly, making them very turbulent when the sun disappears from the sky, with no thick atmosphere to protect it.

All of this adds up to severe conditions, with snow and strong winds making the skies of Mars a very dangerous place.

However, any future astronauts that manage to make it to the planet will be relatively safe from danger as, by the time the snow reaches the surface, it would have drastically slowed down.

This also means that the image of astronauts building snowmen on Mars is pretty much impossible as only a small amount of water is actually involved in the weather process and would more likely result in a thin layer of frost on the surface.

“We happened to discover the occurrence of snowstorms because we used much more sophisticated and fine-scale modelling than done before, allowing us to reinterpret existing measurements that posed mysteries,” Spiga said of the findings.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic