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Snow Flakes are Fine Particles on Mars

First Posted: Jun 23, 2012 05:28 AM EDT
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Most of us seem to be quite inquisitive of the latest finding done by the team of exometerologists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A team has uncovered certain interesting facts about Martian snow based on the data collected from the orbiting Mars spacecrafts.  The new study reveals the presences of snowflakes on Mars that are composed of carbon dioxide, roughly the size of the human red blood cells.

When season changes from the summers to the fall, clouds of snow hang above Mars covering the poles and travelling halfway to the equator. These observation and made from the data collected by NASA's spacecrafts, "the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The observations made state that snow particles formed in the south are smaller than the snow particles in the north. But the particles present at the north and south pole are the size of the red blood cells.

Co-author Kerri Cahoy, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, said in a statement, "These are very fine particles, not big flakes. An astronaut standing among snow particles falling onto the Martian surface would probably see it as a fog, because they're so small."

In order to get an accurate picture of carbon dioxide condensation on Mars, the team looked at temperature and pressure details taken by MRO to determine where and when conditions would allow carbon dioxide snow particles to form. They also examined measurements from MGS' laser altimeter, which gauged the topography of Mars by timing how long laser pulses took to bounce back from the planet's surface. Very rarely did the laser beam return faster than anticipated, after bouncing off cloud particles in the Martian atmosphere. Based on the amount of light these clouds reflected, the researchers were able to calculate the density of carbon dioxide in each one. They figured out the total mass of snow particles hovering above Mars' poles by examining earlier measurements of tiny, seasonal shifts in the planet's gravitational field.

It is for the first time that the researchers were able to come up with the a  new finding on using only the spacecraft data. 

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