Winter on Mars
How does winter on the red planet compare to Earth?
By: Kirsten Brooker | January 5, 2023 | 509 Words
Here on Earth, winter is different depending on where you live. Some areas see lots of snow and freezing temperatures. At the same time, other places experience much milder climates and less precipitation. Scientists study weather patterns on our planet and in outer space. Using highly advanced technology, satellite photography, and large amounts of data, scientists can determine how cold it gets on Mars and what precipitation. So, how does winter on Earth compare to winter on the red planet?
It’s Cold Out There
Like Earth, Mars experiences colder climates during the winter season. However, what earthlings consider cold is far different than what happens on Mars. Much of the cold season sees temperatures below zero, but the planet’s poles plummet to around minus 190 degrees Fahrenheit. The bitter cold produces ice, snow, and frost, though snow accumulations rarely exceed a few feet, and it takes months to acquire that amount of precipitation.
Interestingly, one year on Earth is equivalent to two years on Mars. Therefore, the winter season takes much longer to come around than at home.
What Does Precipitation on Mars Look Like?
While it snows on the red planet, its appearance differs from the snow on Earth. Due to the way the water molecules form in the immense cold and atmospheric conditions, the snowflakes on Mars are cube shaped.
Sylvain Piqueux, a Mars scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, described why the snowflakes form this way: “Because carbon dioxide ice has a symmetry of four, we know dry-ice snowflakes would be cube-shaped. Thanks to the Mars Climate Sounder, we can tell these snowflakes would be smaller than the width of a human hair.’”
There are two types of snow on the planet, water ice and carbon dioxide (dry ice). The water ice rarely makes it to the planet’s surface, as it dissipates in the atmosphere before it can land. The carbon dioxide ice does make it to the ground, though snowfall only occurs on the coldest parts of the planet where human technology has been unable to capture photos or video.
Winter’s End on Mars
Arguably the most beautiful time of the Martian year is near the end of winter when temperatures start to increase, and the ice and frost begin to melt. Breathtaking patterns emerge from the once-frozen tundra that scientists have compared to spiders, spots on a Dalmatian, Swiss cheese, and fried eggs. The semitransparent ice allows enough sunlight to heat the below-surface gases. This elevation in temperature leads to the eruption of geysers that send waves of dust onto the planet’s surface. Scientists are now using the waves of dust to help determine which way the wind is blowing on Mars. This information was sent to NASA scientists through the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been in orbit for over 16 years and has provided more than 436 terabits of data to the space institution.