frozen dunes and craters with frost

There are only a few days left until 2022 comes to an end. It has been a very special year when it comes to exploring outer space, and Spain has witnessed this on numerous occasions. Space telescopes and other devices from various space agencies have given us an unprecedented view of inhospitable and fascinating places, like Mars. And NASA wanted to commemorate the end of the year in a very curious way: reviewing the martian winter.

The Martian stations, like the rest of the Red Planet, have been worthy of study. and one of them It’s the curious winter of Mars, since it does not look like Earth at all, as is logical. That has been reflected in a series of images collected by NASA that will certainly not leave you indifferent.

From the formation of Martian snow to pictures of how the planet’s terrain looks like when these winters arrive, going through a complete explanation of how this station works in said territory. These are just a few examples of NASA’s year-end tribute.

winter on mars

The first thing to understand about winter on Mars is that they don’t work like they do on Earth even in the usual time periods. The elliptical orbit of Mars causes winter arrived much later than ours, since a Martian year is practically equivalent to two terrestrial years.

The arrival of winter brings ice, frost and snow that cover certain regions of the planet. The poles of Mars reach extreme temperatures, minus 123 degrees Celsius, despite the fact that no more than “a few meters of snow is recorded on the planet, most of which falls on extremely flat areas,” says the space agency.

NASA explanatory video about winter on Mars.

But how does snow form on Mars? There are two types of Martian snow; the one that is formed with water ice and carbon dioxide. The air on Mars is very thin, and temperatures drop extremely low, causing the frozen water snow to sublime before it even touches Martian soil. Carbon dioxide snow (or dry ice) does touch the ground.

Snow only occurs at the coldest ends of Mars, at its poles, and only when the sky is cloudy and it’s night. These clouds are thick enough to block the view of spacecraft orbiting Mars, and robots like Perseverance. They are not able to withstand such freezing temperatures.

'Megadunes' formed by dry ice frost formed on the dunes in winter.

‘Megadunes’ formed by dry ice frost formed on the dunes in winter.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona


So the way for NASA to determine that snow is indeed present is to look through the clouds using NASA’s Reconnaissance Orbiter’s Mars Climate Sounder, which is capable of recording light at invisible wavelengths to the human eye. Thus, dry ice snow falling to the ground has been detected. Already in 2008, the Phoenix lander that fell about 1,600 kilometers from the north pole of Mars, recorded the snow with a laser instrument.

cubic snow

But the curiosities do not end here. The way snowflakes form on Mars is different than on Earth. Because of the way the dry ice molecules stick together, they form cube shaped snowflakes, since these always come together in formations of four.

Formation on the surface of Mars.

Formation on the surface of Mars.



Carbon dioxide ice has a symmetry of 4, so if we had a Martian snowflake, we would see it in the shape of a cube. That is if we get to see them, since the Mars Climate Sounder has determined that these flakes they would be smaller than the width of a human hair.

However, what is the “most fabulous” discovery according to NASA regarding winter on Mars occurs at its end. The little accumulated ice “thaws” and prepares to sublimate into the atmosphere. In the process, very curious formations are formed (forgive the redundancy) that scientists have eagerly studied.

[La NASA descubre un extraño patrón con forma de polígonos en la superficie de Marte]

As if that were not enough, this process also has another side effect; the geysers they erupt, as translucent ice “allows sunlight to heat the gas beneath it, and this gas eventually erupts, sending dust fans to the surface.” And yes, in case you were wondering, scientists are studying these geysers and this process itself to “learn more about which way the Martian winds blow.”

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