Falling snow discovered on Mars (Lead)

October 1st, 2008 - 1:30 pm ICT by IANS  

Toronto, Oct 1 (IANS) A Canadian-supplied meteorological station on the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’ (NASA) Phoenix Mars Lander has found snow falling from clouds on Mars. Toronto-based York University scientists, who were instrumental in making a meteorological device known as lidar, said their discovery was made over the last month when the lidar emitted laser light into the Martian atmosphere to measure its outline - dust, ground fog and clouds.

It detected snow from clouds about four kilometres above where the Phoenix landed May 25. However, the instruments also showed that the snow vapourised before reaching the surface of the red planet.

“Nothing like this view has ever been seen on Mars,” said Jim Whiteway, who is professor and lead scientist for the meteorological station on Phoenix, during a briefing at NASA’s Washington headquarters Monday.

“We’ll be looking for signs that the snow may even reach the ground,” he said.

The meteorological station - carrying temperature, wind and pressure sensors - is part of the mission to gather information about the Martian climate.

It has provided a comprehensive picture of the Martian atmosphere at the Phoenix landing site - which is about 1,200 km from the planet’s North Pole, a university statement said.

Mission experiments have also found evidence of past interaction between minerals and liquid water - processes that occur on earth - on Mars, the statement said.

Experiments have also hinted at the possibility of calcium carbonate, which is the main component of chalk, and other clay-like particles. Their presence further hints at the likelihood of water on Mars since most carbonates and clays on earth are formed only in the presence of water.

The Phoenix mission has also confirmed that a hard subsurface layer at the far-northern site on Mars contains water-ice.

Scientists say determining whether that ice ever thaws would help answer if the Martian environment has been favourable for life, the university statement said.

The Phoenix mission that was to last three months is already into its fifth month.

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