Mat KaplanAug 06, 2013

The Ancient Snows of Mars on Planetary Radio

Grad student Kat Scanlon leads research indicating precipitation may have helped shape the surface of the red planet

What was a good day for you when you were in college?  For me, it was either getting an assignment turned in on time or completing a show at the campus radio station.  Kat Scanlon has me beat.  Geophysical Research Letters just published a study led by this Brown University graduate student.  It gives more credibility to scientists who believe Mars was at least partly shaped by water falling from the sky.  She tells us about her research in this week's Planetary Radio.

Kat and her colleagues at Brown University and other institutions ran a global circulation model (GCM) on a supercomputer to simulate conditions on Mars about 3.7 billion years ago.  What they came up with was precipitation, probably in the form of snow, that fell in mountains that are directly above what we now see as flood plains.  Kat says they're still figuring out how the snow periodically melted, possibly sending floods thundering down the mountainsides.

Kat saw the same thing happening in Hawaii.  Honolulu isn't exactly arid, but far, far more rain falls in the hills above the island city.  Kat noted this phenomenon during her undergrad studies at the University of Hawaii.  It appears that the same mechanism may have been at work on the red planet, which could provide still more evidence that Mars was once a very hospitable place for life.  If you ask me, we should forget about looking for faces on Mars.  The HiRISE camera should be searching for the ancient ruins of a ski lodge.

There's much more on this week's show, including Emily Lakdawalla's progress report on the Curiosity rover that has now spent one Earth year on Mars.  Bill Nye just attended his first meeting of the NASA Advisory Council, and Bruce Betts returns with another helping of night sky, a Random Space Fact, this week in space history, and the space trivia contest.  Aloha.

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