Revising our understanding of the Red Planet, a new study carried out by researchers at Universite Pierre Curie in Paris suggests that some areas of Mars experience super-fast, turbulent snowstorms at night. According to this research, ice-water particles move rapidly during these snowstorms, and hit the surface within minutes, rather than taking hours to come down.

Atmosphere of Mars

Mars is much colder than Earth due to its wispy atmosphere and a larger distance from the sun. The atmosphere of this barren planet is comprised of 95% carbon dioxide, the small amount of nitrogen and argon, and traces of oxygen, neon, krypton and nitrogen oxide.

Although Mars’ atmosphere is thinner, it does support generation of winds and clouds on the planet. However, there is very little moisture on Mars’ surface despite the presence of wind and clouds on this bone-cold desert.

The idea of snowfall on Mars is not a new concept. In 2008, NASA’s Phoenix lander was able to detect water-ice under a layer of dust in the Martian arctic. The robot also picked up clues suggesting precipitation below water-ice clouds. Later, NASA’s orbiting satellites also found evidence suggesting night-time weather over the northern polar region on Mars. But, at that time, scientists thought that snow particles falling from the clouds descend very slowly, taking several hours to settle on the ground.

The new model, however, suggests that the snow at night time could be falling very quickly on Mars—taking just 10 minutes to cover a distance of one mile.

New atmospheric model simulated the weather on Mars

In the current study, Aymeric Spiga, a researcher at Universite Pierre Curie in Paris, and colleagues created a new model to simulate weather on Mars.

The team fed the model with more detailed data obtained from Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Global Surveyor. The results suggested a violent mixing of air below the clouds during cold Martian nights. This air mixing results in the creation of super fast winds. The water-ice particles in clouds are cooled and precipitated, and then the violent winds bring them down on the surface.

According to Spiga, these snowstorms on Mars can be compared with micro bursts on Earth—a localized weather phenomena in which dense, cold air carrying rain or snow move down quickly from a cloud. Spiga says more studies are needed to investigate the impact of snowstorms on the overall cycle of water and dust on Mars.

The detailed findings of the study have been published in the journal Nature Geoscience.