The universe is a bizarre place. Though are range of experiences may only be limited to what we see and observe on Earth, the universe, even our own solar system, is so profoundly weird that what may appear to be normal and quite common place to us, is literally turned on its head when we step out from our little corner of space. While the universe may have its black hole and pillars of creation, our own solar system, from what we have discovered has an entire planet made up of gases, Saturn, that could float if immersed in water, satellites where possible underground oceans exists (Europa) and the very inimical Red Planet, Mars, where besides the startling red of its surface, a very curious snow falls upon the planet.
While on Earth, we may commonly see water-snow fall, Mars has a different type of snow, composed entirely of carbon dioxide. Known primarily as a gas, CO2 can actually be frozen, and if you’ve ever been to a rock concert you might even have seen it in use in smoke machines as dry ice, which is formed at temperatures of around -125C. And now NASA scientists are saying that they have detected, for possibly the first time, carbon dioxide snow clouds on Mars, and add that the occurrence of such clouds is perhaps unique only to the Red Planet.
The clouds were detected in the southern regions of Mars, and were noted to form during the winters. Mars has been noted to have frozen carbon dioxide on its surface before and the planet’s southern pole is noted to have a year round presence of CO2. In their research, NASA analysed data from 2006-2007 and discovered that in the southern regions, CO2 snow clouds do actually form, with snowfall and regular accumulation of the frozen CO2 occurring on the surface.
Speaking about the study, lead author Paul Hayne of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) said, “These are the first definitive detections of carbon dioxide snow clouds. We firmly establish the clouds are composed of carbon dioxide - flakes of Martian air - and they are thick enough to result in snowfall accumulation at the surface,” while co-author David Kass of JPL added, "One line of evidence for snow is that the carbon dioxide ice particles in the clouds are large enough to fall to the ground during the lifespan of the clouds .Another comes from observations when the instrument is pointed toward the horizon, instead of down at the surface.”