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Scientists Discover Vast, Frozen CO2 Deposit on Mars

Scientists Discover Vast, Frozen CO2 Deposit on Mars

Good news for anyone planning a Halloween Party on Mars — the Red Planet is very well stocked with dry ice, at least for a few more thousand years.

New data from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows a massive deposit of frozen carbon dioxide at the planet’s south pole. Buried beneath a layer of regular ice, the dry ice is reported to be approximately the size of Lake Superior. It is believed to be the remains of Mars’ ancient atmosphere, which, according to earlier space probes, was once very similar to Earth’s.

But the CO2 won’t stay frozen forever. Mars has a “wobbly” orbit, which tilts the poles closer to the sun every hundred thousand years or so. This heats the planet and converts the CO2 into gas, nearly doubling the density of the current, very thin atmosphere. The gas freezes again when Mars straightens out and cools down.

Via Time:

The extra CO2 in Mars’ atmosphere wouldn’t be enough to do much warming, says [Roger Phillips of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., lead author of a report on the discovery], but it’s not without effect. For one thing, the thicker air would be enough to allow water to exist on the surface at lower elevations. The oceans of Mars won’t return, and probably not the rivers — but creeks and ponds would be possible.

Scientists studying the Orbiter’s discovery have observed spots in the south polar ice cap that appear to be “slumping,” which suggests the dry ice is starting to evaporate again. This corresponds with changes in atmospheric pressure measurable by comparisons to previous data.

The CO2 cycle of atmospheric gas to dry ice — and back again — also occurs on a much smaller scale on Earth. Global warming deniers often point to this cycle to dismiss the impact of civilzation’s high carbon emissions. The new Mars data confirms that some climate change is indeed natural, but anyone hoping to use the Red Planet to appeal to the Red States won’t have much basis for their argument. Conditions on Mars and Earth are too different today. Who knows how big our dry ice deposits could be in a billion years?

Click here for a collection of high resolution, never-before-seen photos taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.


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Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

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32 comments

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9:47PM PST on Nov 23, 2012

But wouldn't it be so creepy if what we were looking at this whole time was a murdered planet? So doubtful, but I'm afraid of what "intelligent" life is doing to itself right here.

Global warming is sickening and so sad. Deniers are the sorriest batch alive, with the exception of the ones who know what they're doing and just don't care. I can NEVER get them to explain why pumping billions of metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere isn't a terrible idea.

5:40PM PST on Nov 22, 2012

noted

4:48AM PDT on May 1, 2011

can it be used to terraform mars? that's something we desperately need to do if our planet's current (over)population keeps growing as it has been!

3:52PM PDT on Apr 30, 2011

Amazing!

1:23AM PDT on Apr 29, 2011

Gerlinde P. (Apr 28, 2011 8:31 AM): Mars, as it is today, is a relatively inviting destination compared with how hostile Earth could be in a few millennia if the so-called runaway greenhouse effect, which our stupidity risks, kicks in. Then our precious world would be more like the horror story that is Venus, a graphic warning against the terminal dangers of tampering with the climate.

8:31AM PDT on Apr 28, 2011

maybe the deniers will believe in climate change when earth starts looking like mars. very interesting article, thanks.

1:17AM PDT on Apr 28, 2011

thanks for info

4:43PM PDT on Apr 27, 2011

Interesting.

4:25PM PDT on Apr 27, 2011

Don't see it being an issue any time soon.

4:14PM PDT on Apr 27, 2011

I really hope humans don't go and destroy another planet.

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