Most discoveries are a pleasant surprise. For two Florida students, unearthing vintage NASA suits was a jackpot find. The New Jersey Liberty Hall Museum is proudly boasting a wine older than the United States. But for planetary scientist Aymeric Spiga, discovering snow on Mars was beyond unexpected.
Mars is dry compared to Earth: Its cold nature makes it unlikely that any of the ice on the Red Planet’s surface would melt, and its extremely thin atmosphere would cause any liquid water on the surface to vaporize nearly immediately. Still, Mars’ atmosphere does possess clouds of frozen water.
Snowstorms on Mars are similar to Earthly microbursts, in which dense air zips downward from a cloud. Any snow landing on Mars would be quick to disappear. More often than not, Martian snow turns to vapor before even hitting the surface.
“This is something observed on Earth sometimes, with something called virga — streaks of rain falling from the clouds can vaporize before reaching the surface,”
What, then, does this phenomenon mean for how we depict Mars? Besides the fact that the little red planet continues to surprise us, its atmosphere is more dynamic than we thought. With a constant slew of new findings making an appearance, it seems we may get to know Mars on a more personal level.