Science

Water frost enough to fill 60 Olympic swimming pools found at Mars’ equator

The discovery holds significant implications for future human exploration of Mars. The frost could be harvested to provide water for drinking and breathable air.

In an unexpected revelation, the ExoMars and Mars Express orbiters, operated by the European Space Agency (ESA), have detected the presence of water frost near the equator of Mars. This region was previously considered unsuitable for frost formation. This remarkable discovery, published in Nature Geoscience, has provided fresh insights into the Martian climate and its potential to sustain life.

The frost was observed on the majestic Tharsis volcanoes, including Olympus Mons, Arsia Mons, Ceraunius Tholus, and Ascraeus Mons. Despite being only one-hundredth of a millimeter thick – comparable to the thickness of a human hair – it covers an extensive area.

Water frost
Image Source: Live Science

This frost represents a substantial volume of water, equivalent to 150,000 tonnes or 60 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Scientists have noted that it undergoes a cycle of formation and evaporation.

Adomas Valantinas, the lead author and a postdoctoral researcher at Brown University, expressed surprise at this discovery. “We thought it was impossible for frost to form around Mars’s equator, as the mix of sunshine and thin atmosphere keeps temperatures relatively high at both surface and mountaintop – unlike what we see on Earth, where you might expect to see frosty peaks,” he explained.

However, the unique microclimate within the calderas of the volcanoes, resulting from specific air circulation patterns, allows these frost patches to form. The Martian volcanoes where this frost was found are colossal, reaching heights up to three times that of Mount Everest on Earth.

Nicolas Thomas, a co-author of the study, explained the process: “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.”

This discovery holds significant implications for future human exploration of Mars. The frost could be harvested to provide water for drinking and breathable air, and could even be used to generate rocket fuel.

To gain a deeper understanding of this phenomenon, scientists plan to study the region during the colder Martian seasons when the frost is more visible. They also aim to observe the region from an orbit that allows for early morning observations before the frost evaporates.

You might also be interested in – Four humans to start ‘living on Mars’

Dr. Shubhangi Jha

Avid reader, infrequent writer, evolving

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