ESAs Mars Express is due to arrive at Mars in December 2003, and its Beagle 2 lander will be making a touchdown in the middle of the Martian winter. Will it see a white Christmas on the Red Planet? Also, if humans one day go to Mars, would they need to take a sunscreen?
Over its four-year lifetime, Mars Express will be returning data to refine the latest computer models of the Martian climate. It will be closely watching the clouds, fog, dust devils, and storms, looking for clues to explain the climate changes on Mars, now and in the past, and to better prepare us for future missions.
ESA scientists are already working to make sure that future missions to Mars arrive safely, and that future human explorers know what kind of weather to expect. They have developed a global atmospheric circulation model for Mars, which uses the same principles as those used to predict weather on Earth. Weather data sent back from Mars Express will help us to perfect these Martian weather forecasts.
This winter, the weather will be similar to that of the Earth, but colder. Mars Express will experience cold, cloudy mornings and cool, hazy afternoons. Some of the clouds could be made of water-ice crystals, but most clouds are made of crystals of carbon dioxide, or dry ice. Temperatures will fall below –125°C but, because there is not enough moisture in the atmosphere to produce a significant amount of snow, Beagle 2 itself will not see a white Christmas.
Monica Talevi | alfa
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