Surprisingly Earth-like clouds spotted on Mars


Two cameras from the Mars Express orbiter captured images of several dust storms near the Martian North Pole in 2019. Analysis of the images indicates that large dust clouds on Mars formed similarly to water vapor clouds on Mars. Earth – quite a surprising find, given the diversity of planets.

Most of the clouds on Earth are (obviously) not dust, but voluminous collections of cold water vapour. They are formed due to the water cycle and the conditions of the earth’s atmosphere. Mars’ atmosphere is much colder than Earth’s; yet, the planet has clouds, the structure of which is explored in an article just published on Icarus. Some clouds on Mars contain water and were photographed by the Curiosity rover a day before the Mars Express timelapse was made. But most of the clouds on the Red Planet are made up of large amounts of dust that are blown up by the winds and deposited on the planet.

Seen from above, storm systems look strikingly similar to Earth’s clouds, other than their rusty-orange hue. The Martian clouds were imaged by Mars Express’ Visual Monitoring Camera and High Resolution Stereo Camera, as well as the MARCI camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The images show the clouds formed by columns of rising air forming small cloud cells , with intersections where cooler air sinks beneath the rising air.


“When you think of a Mars-like atmosphere on Earth, you could easily think of a dry desert or polar region,” Mars Express mission project scientist Colin Wilson said in a statement from the European Space Agency. . “It is therefore completely unexpected that, following the chaotic movement of dust storms, parallels can be drawn with processes occurring in tropical regions of the Earth, humid, hot and decidedly not similar to Mars.”


Furthermore, observations of clouds on Venus have indicated similarly organized cloud patterns. Three upcoming missions to Venus (two by NASA and one by ESA) are planned for the early 2030s and could reveal more information about the planet’s meteorology, the evolution of which is often compared to that of Earth.


  • Cellular patterns and dry convection in textured dust storms at the edge of Mars North Polar Cap


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