Tuesday, September 30, 2008

White snow may fall on Red Planet, scientists find

Thanks to a Canadian-built weather instrument, scientists have discovered snow falls from Martian clouds.

“Nothing like this view has ever been seen on Mars,” said Jim Whiteway, an associate professor at York University in Toronto and lead scientist for Canada's contribution to the Phoenix mission. “We'll be looking for signs that the snow may even reach the ground.”

Using a laser instrument called the lidar, scientists found clouds composed of ice crystals and some of those ice crystals became large enough to fall through the Martian atmosphere. The lidar emits pulses of laser light into the sky and then uses the data to examine dust and cloud particles in the atmosphere.

Prof. Whiteway referred to the snow as “diamond dust,” which is also found in the Canadian Arctic, where extremely cold, dry weather patterns mimic conditions on Mars.

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