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HomeTechMars Volcanoes Are Holding Something Unexpected: Water Frost

Mars Volcanoes Are Holding Something Unexpected: Water Frost

Omar Gallaga

Spacewatchers are reacting to the news that water frost was unexpectedly found near the tallest volcanic mountain on Mars, Olympus Mons. The peak, the largest in the solar system, is part of the Tharsis region on Mars, around the planet’s equator. The evidence of water frost was first spotted by equipment on Mars run by the European Space Agency, and research on the findings has been published in Nature Geoscience.

“We thought it was impossible for frost to form around Mars’s equator, as the mix of sunshine and thin atmosphere keeps temperatures relatively high at both surface and mountaintop – unlike what we see on Earth, where you might expect to see frosty peaks,” said Adomas Valantinas, the researcher credited with the findings.

Image shows frost on Olympus Mons on Mars Image shows frost on Olympus Mons on Mars

This image shows Olympus Mons, the tallest volcano not only on Mars but in the entire solar system. It was obtained by the High Resolution Stereo Camera aboard ESA’s Mars Express, and taken as part of new research revealing water frost for the first time near Mars’s equator — a part of the planet where it was thought improbable for frost to exist.


The discovery, which was surprising given the thin atmosphere and temperatures of that area, has huge implications: It could help determine if and how liquid water exists on Mars and how it interacts with the atmosphere. Future missions to Mars, including ones that include humans, may benefit from the discovery.

Scientists have also long looked to Mars for what it can teach us about planetary evolution. Researchers have noted, for instance, that the red planet may once have had a more hospitable and temperate climate where water flowed freely. Discoveries about Mars could provide insights helpful to understanding the effects of human-induced climate change on Earth.

On places like Reddit, striking images of purple and blue spots around the peaks dazzled online commenters, who marveled at the height of the peaks (“24km high, 3X the height of Everest,” wrote one user) and the significance of the discovery.

Other posters made jokes about the images resembling part of the human anatomy (“Could you mark this NSFW? Some of us are browsing with kids around who don’t need to see Mars’ business all out in the open.”) or posted memes implying that Nestle is going to target the planet for its water. 

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