Martian weather kicks into high gear at night

Aug 23, 2017

By Rachael Lallensack

When night arrives on Mars, plunging temperatures can lead to weather much worse than researchers previously thought was possible on the Red Planet. Snowstorms can spring up with whipping winds that could create problems for missions to the planet, according to a new study.

The analysis upends researchers’ previous assumptions that Martian snow falls slowly and gently from the sky. Getting a handle on the planet’s weather is important for future exploratory missions. But it could also help to explain how Mars lost a lot of its water, and what might happen to the water that remains. The study, published on 21 August in Nature Geoscience1, moves researchers closer to an answer by providing the first detailed peek into what happens to the water in the Red Planet’s clouds.

The new work combined three widely used computer models which enabled the team to simulate large-scale global climates, calculate air turbulence and even make localized weather predictions for Mars. Previously, researchers used only one model at a time. When scientists used only a global climate model, they could predict where clouds might be, but they didn’t have any idea about the dynamics within a cloud, says Aymeric Spiga, a planetary scientist at Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris and lead study author. “That’s the reason why these snowstorms were not discovered before.”

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