Mars craft – and its York team – detect falling snow

Icy snow falls from high in Mars’ atmosphere and may even reach the planet’s surface, wrote The Washington Post Sept. 30, in a story about a news conference by scientists working with NASA’s Phoenix lander.

Laser instruments aboard the lander detected the snow in clouds about 2 1/2 miles above the surface and followed the precipitation as it fell more than a mile. But because of limitations with the technology, it was unclear whether any of the powdery stuff made it all the way to the surface.

“Nothing like this view has ever been seen on Mars,” said Jim Whiteway, a professor in York University’s Faculty of Science & Engineering and lead scientist for the Canadian-supplied Meteorological Station on Phoenix. “We’ll be looking for signs that the snow may even reach the ground.”

Whiteway said the snow, along with frost and fog, began to appear about a month ago, as temperatures cooled on Mars. “This is now occurring every night,” he said.

In an interview after the teleconference, Whiteway likened the snow to “diamond dust” that falls in the Arctic and Antarctica. “What this is telling us is that water does rise from the ground to the atmosphere and then precipitates down,” he said. “So there is a hydrological cycle on Mars, and now other experts will study the data and try to determine what it all means.”

Although the Phoenix instruments could not determine whether the snow hit the ground, Whiteway said there are some indications that it does. Images of the thin but distinct Martian clouds can be seen on the NASA Web site.

  • Trust a Canadian weather instrument to find snow. Even on Mars, wrote the Ottawa Citizen Sept. 30. A Canadian university’s laser on a NASA Mars lander has detected snow falling from clouds about four kilometres above the landing site, and vapourizing before reaching ground.

“Nothing like this has ever been seen on Mars,” said Jim Whiteway, of York University, the lead scientist for the Canadian weather station on the Mars Phoenix lander.

Canada ’s share of Phoenix includes lidar, a cousin of radar that uses lasers to scan the sky. Until now, it had found clouds, fog and blowing sand. Mars Phoenix landed when the weather was warmer (still below freezing) and the air was absorbing surface water, Whiteway said yesterday.

Now, as Martian winter approaches, “it’s condensing in the atmosphere…and we’ve started to see frost, ground fog and clouds.”

Photos from the robot show fluffy clouds drifting across the horizon each morning. And lidar’s beam shows that inside the clouds, cascades of the heaviest ice crystals are falling inside. “So that is snow, falling from the clouds, and we’re going to be watching very closely over the next month for evidence that the snow is actually landing on the surface.”

  • It’s the first snowfall – from Mars that is, wrote the Toronto Star Sept. 30 in its story about findings discussed by Jim Whiteway. “The measurement of clouds and precipitation on Mars was done with a lidar. This is technology that was developed in Canada over the last 40 years,” Whiteway, a professor of engineering and atmospheric science, said in a phone interview from Washington, DC, last night.

“There’s never been an instrument like the lidar. So this is the first time we’ve ever been able to see this,” said Whiteway, one of the Phoenix project team members making the announcement at NASA headquarters yesterday.

“It’s a major breakthrough,” Alain Berinstain, director of planetary exploration and space astronomy at the Canadian Space Agency, said from Ottawa last night. “We have demonstrated that we deserve to be right there at the forefront of scientific discoveries in the solar system,” Berinstain said. “ Dr. Whiteway and his team were invited by the US team to participate in this mission because they’re the best in the world…at these specialized measurements in the atmosphere,” Berinstain said.

Scientists discovered the Martian snow over the past month, said Whiteway. But scientists don’t actually see snow land on the ground. It falls on the atmosphere and then evaporates into the dry air, Whiteway explained. “It’s part of the overall of the picture. Life requires water. So it helps us understand the current state of water on Mars and how it would have evolved over millions of years.”

He said, “Before the mission started people would ask me if we were going to see snow on Mars and I’d be kind of cagey and say if it does snow we’ll see it. And what I showed them today is what it looked like.”

  • Thanks to a Canadian-built weather instrument, scientists have discovered snow falls from Martian clouds, wrote The Globe and Mail Sept. 30. “Nothing like this view has ever been seen on Mars,” said Jim Whiteway, who referred to the snow as “diamond dust,” which is also found in the Canadian Arctic, where extremely cold, dry weather patterns mimic conditions on Mars.

“This is a way to explain how water moves through the atmosphere. Until now, we didn’t know whether or not there was precipitation and snow through the atmosphere. And now at least we know that much. So it’s another piece of the puzzle,” Whiteway said in an interview yesterday after a news briefing at NASA’s Washington headquarters.

  • A Canadian-built weather station on NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander has detected snow falling from Martian clouds, wrote The Canadian Press Sept. 29. The meteorological station is a collaboration led by York University, in partnership with the University of Alberta, Dalhousie University and European universities and weather agencies. It is funded by the Canadian Space Agency, in a story which also included comments by Jim Whiteway.
  • Yesterday NASA extended the mission of the busy Phoenix lander, saying it will operate until it dies in the cold, dark Martian winter, wrote The Toronto Sun Sept. 30. The Phoenix lander already has operated far longer than expected when it was dropped onto the Martian surface in May, and its controllers said they would squeeze every drop of life they could out of the solar-powered lander.
  • Jim Whiteway of Toronto’s York University is the lead scientist for the Canadian Meteorological Station on the Phoenix Lander, wrote the Digital Journal Sept. 30. He told the press the presence of fog and clouds gives a hint about the presence of water on the planet in the past as well as in the present.
  • The York-led team’s Mars findings were also reported on Victoria, BC’s COIC-FM Radio and Global TV.

Girls aren’t the only ones using emotional taunts

Boy bullies have long been thought to favour physical aggression while their female counterparts are considered more likely to rely on the more indirect forms of aggression, wrote The Globe and Mail Sept. 30, in a story about new research. But while boys continue to outpace girls in their use of physical aggression, they are also just as likely as girls to use social and emotional taunting.

Experts suggest boys may choose indirect aggression more when it comes to targeting girls, due to vestiges of a chivalric code, says Debra Pepler, a psychology professor in York’s Faculty of Health and scientific co-director of PREVNet (Promoting Relationships and Eliminating Violence), a network of Canadian researchers examining bullying. “You’re not supposed to hit women.”

Reader calls financial system ‘its own worst handicap’

Bernie Wolf, director of the international MBA program at Schulich School of Business at York University, said, “Clearly something had to be done otherwise the financial system would have been handicapped,” wrote Jin Harris in a letter to The Toronto Sun Sept. 30, referring to comments made by the York economics professor about a proposed bailout for US financial institutions. It seems to me, wrote Harris, the system is its own worst handicap and it should be scrapped in favour of something more efficient, something which didn’t keep bobbing up and down like an out-of-control yo-yo.

York prof will take part in Niagara panel on poverty

A panel presentation and discussion presented by the Niagara Branch of the Ontario Association of Social Workers will take place at Niagara Region headquarters on Thursday, Oct. 16 from 7 to 9pm in room CE-102, wrote the Welland Tribune Sept. 30.

The panel will include “How Poverty Definition Shapes Poverty Solutions” with Stephanie Baker Collins, professor in York University’s Atkinson School of Social Work.

On air

  • William Wicken, history professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, spoke about his talk on the history of Canada’s Mi’kmaq community and treaties, on CBC Radio’s "Info Morning" (Sydney, NS) Sept. 29.