Moon and Planets

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Moon and Planets

The atmosphere of Mars is quite different from Earth’s. It’s colder, thinner, and it’s made mainly of carbon dioxide. In one way, though, the skies of the two planets are similar: both of them have clouds. And for the most part, the clouds themselves are alike as well.

Because Mars is so cold, the clouds are made entirely of ice — frozen water or carbon dioxide. There’s not much water in the Martian atmosphere, so the clouds are thin. And they’re usually much higher than even the highest clouds of Earth.

But Mars also has some clouds that are a bit different from those on Earth. That includes “dots” and some long, skinny ribbons.

An orbiting spacecraft has seen the dots in a specific region of Mars, south of the equator. The clouds are almost perfectly round. They’re up to 60 miles in diameter, a few miles thick, and they top out at altitudes of 30 to 50 miles. Some are seen at dawn, while others are seen in clumps in the dawn or evening twilight. The clouds could form as the atmosphere interacts with some odd spots in the Martian magnetic field.

The elongated clouds are seen in volcanic regions. The longest span about 1500 miles, and are up to a hundred miles wide. They may be sculpted by winds flowing over volcanic peaks — some odd clouds for the Red Planet.

Mars stands close to the lower left of the Moon at dawn tomorrow. The planet Saturn is about the same distance to the upper right of the Moon.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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