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Frosty volcanoes discovered in Mars’s tropics

Written by  Monday, 10 June 2024 14:00
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Newfound frost atop Olympus Mons

ESA’s ExoMars and Mars Express missions have spotted water frost for the first time near Mars’s equator, a part of the planet where it was thought impossible for frost to exist.

A peculiar microclimate

Topography of Tharsis region on Mars
Topography of Tharsis region on Mars

The Tharsis region of Mars hosts numerous volcanoes, including Olympus Mons and the Tharsis Montes: Ascraeus, Pavonis and Arsia Mons. Many of these volcanoes are colossal, towering above the surrounding plains at heights ranging from one (Pavonis Mons) to three (Olympus Mons) times that of Earth’s Mount Everest.

These volcanoes have calderas, large hollows, at their summits, caused as magma chambers emptied during past eruptions. The researchers propose that air circulates in a peculiar way above Tharsis; this creates a unique microclimate within the calderas of the volcanoes there that allows patches of frost to form.

“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,” says co-author Nicolas Thomas, Principal Investigator of TGO’s Colour and Stereo Surface Imaging System (CaSSIS) and Adomas’s PhD supervisor at the University of Bern. “We actually see this happening on Earth and other parts of Mars, with the same phenomenon causing the seasonal martian Arsia Mons Elongated Cloud.

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