There might have been this much snow on Mars about 400,000 years ago. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Snow on Mars Probably Melts—10 Things You Need to Know

Under certain conditions, ice on Mars can melt, just as it does on Earth.

A new study of the Martian surface has shown that it was snowing on the Red Planet about a million years ago. The remnants of this snow on Mars have survived to this day in the form of dense and saturated grains of ice that have the ability to melt.


Everything you need to know about the latest discoveries about the snow on Mars

Project

The new analysis of data on the Martian surface was carried out by a joint team of scientists made up of representatives of several US universities and institutes. The project was supervised by the NASA space agency.

Data collection

The analysis is based on numerous data collected by various spacecraft over the past two decades. During this time, ice was discovered in many places on Mars. Most of it was captured from orbiting satellites. For example, a significant amount of data was collected by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

This illustration shows the incredible difference of the color of the snow on Mars based on the amount of dust in it. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
This illustration shows the incredible difference in the color of the snow on Mars based on the amount of dust in it. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Grains of ice

However, until recently it was very difficult to determine the size of the grains of this ice, as well as the degree of its saturation with Martian dust. The latter aspect is of particular interest to scientists since Mars is considered a dusty planet.

The Martian desert

“Dust devils” are raging on its surface – powerful and suddenly arising dust whirlwinds. Studying the composition of dust in ice can help scientists figure out how and when it formed.

The problem

This is exactly the problem that planetary scientists Aditya Huller and Philip Christensen of Arizona State University and their team tried to solve in their study. Assuming that ice and snow on Mars might be comparable in characteristics to Earth’s ice, ice and snow expert Stephen Warren from the University of Washington was brought in to join the team.

New methods

For the analysis, the combined data obtained from the Phoenix Mars Lander and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft were taken, followed by computer simulations. In fact, a new method was developed that allows you to determine the main characteristics of ice by its brightness and color.

Nasa's Phoenix Mars Lander dug this hole in the Martian surface and found ice a few sentimeters below the ground. The blue square indicates the brightness measurements shown on the right side. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / University of Arizona / Texas A&M University / Ice and soil measurements from Blaney et al. (2009)
Nasa’s Phoenix Mars Lander dug this hole in the Martian surface and found ice a few centimeters below the ground. The blue square indicates the brightness measurements shown on the right side. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / University of Arizona / Texas A&M University / Ice and soil measurements from Blaney et al. (2009)

Simulations

In the first phase, computer simulations helped predict the brightness of snow and ice on Earth under various conditions. Then scientists were able to successfully match the brightness of the Earth’s and Martian ice, which, in turn, helped determine the level of the dustiness of ice on the Red Planet.

Brightness

The authors of the study explain that the snow on Mars is actually much darker than the fresh snow that we see on Earth. The darker it is, the dustier it is. And the more dust in the ice, the warmer it becomes.

Conclusions

This means that dust saturation can affect ice stability, including changes over time. In other words, under certain conditions, ice on Mars can melt, as well as on Earth.

Ice deposits

Based on simulation data, scientists also found that the ice discovered on Mars by the Phoenix Mars Lander was formed by dusty snowfall about a million years ago, like other ice deposits previously discovered in the mid-latitudes of Mars.


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Sources:

Khuller, A. R., Christensen, P. R., & Warren, S. G. (2021, August 18). Spectral albedo of Dusty Martian H2O snow and ice. AGU Journals.
Kooser, A. (2021, August 23). Mars snow is dusty, and might Even melt into liquid water near the surface. CNET.
Phys.org. (2021, August 23). Martian snow is DUSTY, could potentially melt, new study shows.
Valentine, K., & Clement, M. (2021, August 19). Martian snow is DUSTY, could potentially melt, new study shows. ASU News.

Written by Vladislav Tchakarov

Hello, my name is Vladislav and I am glad to have you here on Curiosmos. My experience as a freelance writer began in 2018 but I have been part of the Curiosmos family since mid-2020. As a history student, I have a strong passion for history and science, and the opportunity to research and write in this field on a daily basis is a dream come true.

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