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Meteors that crash on Mars create mysterious, smoky clouds

The NASA Curiosity Rover sees clouds on Mars.

NASA / JPL-Caltech / York University

The Mars InSight Lander of NASA and the Curiosity Rover have observed a lot of sky and have sent back beautiful views of blurred clouds. It does not rain on Mars but we could be closer to finding out how the cold, barren planet can have such cloudy days.

A research team led by Victoria Hartwick, a graduate student at The University of Colorado Boulder, has scrutinized the mysterious clouds that form in the middle Martian atmosphere, about 30 kilometers above the ground.

"Clouds do not just form on their own," said Hartwick. "They need something to focus on." The secret could be "meteoric smoke," icy dust created when space rocks fly into the planet's atmosphere.

Typically, several tons of space debris fall on Mars daily, Hartwick noted. As the meteors explode, the dust flies. Dust particles can act as seeds on the earth, where water vapor condenses into clouds. A similar action could take place on Mars.

The researchers performed computer simulations of the planetary atmosphere. The clouds appeared in the simulations only when the team included meteors in the calculations. The team published its findings on Monday in the journal Nature Geoscience.

A look into the Marswolken can tell scientists more about the interaction of its atmosphere with the climate and give us clues to its warmer, moister past. It's nice to have a scientific context that goes with the Soothing Cloud Views .

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