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Snow falling in Martian atmosphere (Roundup)

By Joshua S Hill Oct 1, 2008, 1:52 GMT

Snow falling in Martian atmosphere (Roundup)

Phoenix Mars Mission landed at 68.2 degrees north latitude, 234.2 degrees east longitude. The far-northern location of the site is indicated on this global view from the Mars Orbiter Camera on NASA\'s Mars Global Surveyor. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/MSSS

NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander has detected snow falling in the Martian clouds above it. A laser instrument onboard Phoenix was designed to detect the interaction between the Martian atmosphere and its surface. Subsequently, it found evidence of snow falling in clouds approximately 4 kilometers above the spacecraft’s landing site.

However the snow is not likely to be witnessed by Martian visitors, as it is turned to vapor long before it gets anywhere near the Martian surface.

"Nothing like this view has ever been seen on Mars," said Jim Whiteway, of York University, Toronto, lead scientist for the Canadian-supplied Meteorological Station on Phoenix. "We'll be looking for signs that the snow may even reach the ground."

The Mars Lander has long since passed its original lifespan, and NASA scientists are endeavoring to make as much of its presence on Mars as possible. Powered by solar energy, Phoenix was dropped onto the surface back on May 25, and will likely run out of power as winter sets in and the amount of solar energy dries up.

"We are still collecting data and have lots of analysis ahead, but we are making good progress on the big questions we set out for ourselves," said Phoenix Principal Investigator Peter Smith of the University of Arizona, Tucson.

NASA was excited to make this latest discovery known. While the same instrument that observed snow in the clouds also detected past interactions between minerals and liquid water, NASA scientists know that “snow” on “Mars” would be a popular story amongst the general populace.

Now in its fifth month of a planned three month stay, the Phoenix Lander has made headlines time and time again. It has identified a hard subsurface layer containing ice, and now NASA scientists are trying to determine if there is liquid water on Mars.



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