It's snowing .... on Mars

Wed 01 October 08

NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander has detected falling snow from clouds about 4km above the spacecraft's landing site

NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander has detected snow falling from Martian clouds.

A laser instrument designed to gather knowledge of how the atmosphere and surface interact on Mars has detected snow from clouds about 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) above the spacecraft's landing site. Data show the snow vaporizing before reaching the ground.

"Nothing like this view has ever been seen on Mars," said Jim Whiteway, of York University, Toronto, lead scientist for the Canadian-supplied Meteorological Station on Phoenix. "We'll be looking for signs that the snow may even reach the ground."

Lidar Measurements of Snow Falling from Martian Clouds
Lidar Measurements of Snow Falling from Martian Clouds
Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Canadian Space Agency

Since landing on May 25, Phoenix already has confirmed that a hard subsurface layer at its far-northern site contains water-ice. Determining whether that ice ever thaws would help answer whether the environment there has been favorable for life, a key aim of the mission.

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