A Frosty Welcome

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Just like on Earth, temperatures on Mars’ equator are higher. That’s because the atmosphere is thinner and there’s more sunlight.

Now, the European Space Agency (ESA) shared pictures showing frost atop volcanoes in the Martian tropics.

“We thought it was impossible for frost to form around Mars’s equator,” said Adomas Valantinas, lead author of the study, who made the discovery at the University of Bern, Switzerland.

It all started with a picture taken on the Tharsis Plateau, a large mountainous region. It includes Olympus Mons, a volcano three times taller than Mount Everest – making it the largest volcano not only on Mars but also in the entire Solar System.

“We saw a shiny, blue deposit there, a particular texture that we only see in the early morning and during the cold seasons,” Frederic Schmidt of Paris-Saclay University, France, told Agence France-Presse.

The team of scientists established that the deposit was indeed frost, and that it was due to peculiar air circulation above Tharsis.

The long-extinct volcanoes have large hollows called calderas, allowing for a microclimate to develop there.

“Winds travel up the slopes of the mountains, bringing relatively moist air from near the surface up to higher altitudes, where it condenses and settles as frost,” explained the ESA’s Nicolas Thomas.

Though the layer of frost is as thin as a human hair, the area it covers is so massive that the water could fill up to 60 Olympic swimming pools.

Determining the water cycle that makes frost develop atop the Tharsis volcanoes could help researchers identify water resources that could allow human exploration. Water “could also be used as rocket fuel,” they wrote in the Conversation.

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