Mars – the white planet

Snow once fell on Mars, turning it into the white planet, astronomers have discovered.
Areas that are now a vast red tropical desert were covered with glaciers millions of years ago.
It is good news for Nasa because it means there could still be pockets of ice all over Mars which astronauts could tap into.
Scientist have puzzled for 30 years over why rock-strewn deposits could be found at the foot of mountains and volcanoes near the martian equator.
They appeared to have been dumped there by glaciers – but it was a mystery how ice formed so far from the red planet’s poles?
Now climate experiments in the laboratory reveal that the glaciers were created by snow carried from Mars’ north and south polar regions.
US and French scientists say that Mars’ axis used to be pointed more towards the sun. The extra heat released massive amounts of water vapour into the martian atmosphere.
Winds carried the clouds of vapour over volcanoes such as Tharsis Montes and Olympus Mons, seen in the Nasa photo above, where it condensed and fell as snow.
Over time, the snow turned to ice, the ice formed glaciers and the glaciers created the deposits seen today.
Professor James Head, of Brown University, Rhode Island, said: “The findings tell us that Mars has experienced big climate changes in the past, the kinds of climate change that led to the Great Ice Age here on Earth.
“This precipitation pattern may have left pockets of ice scattered across Mars.”

© Paul Sutherland. Unauthorised reproduction forbidden.

Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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