Tag: Winter

This Martian Crater Is a ‘Winter Wonderland’ Right Now, New Photo Shows

Topography of Korolev crater.

The Mars Express orbiter has sent a festive postcard back to Earth just in time for the holidays. On Thursday, the European Space Agency (ESA) released the spacecraft’s view of a “winter wonderland” of ice inside Korolev crater.

The crater is located at the Martian north pole, so it may as well be the imaginary headquarters for the Martian Santa Claus.

It may also be a not-so-imaginary home for humans one day, as igloo-like domes at the Martian north pole have been floated as one possibility for inhabiting the planet.

The image is especially timely because Mars Express will celebrate its 15th anniversary in Martian orbit on Christmas Day.

Named for the influential Soviet rocket engineer Sergey Korolev, the impact crater is 82 kilometers (50 miles) in diameter and contains a permanent ice field that stretches over a mile deep.

Mars Express captured its view with its High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC), creating a composite image out of five orbital passes over the region.

Korolev crater was also recently imaged by the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), which is jointly operated by ESA and the Russian space agency Roscosmos.

The TGO’s Colour and Stereo Surface Imaging System (CaSSIS) instrument captured a topographical view of the formation on April 4, which shows the slope of the crater in blues and purples.

The ice field is chilled by a “cold trap” of air that insulates the crater and keeps it perennially filled with frozen water.

It would be a great place to go for a skate, so long as you don’t mind low gravity, unbreathable air, and high doses of radiation.

InSight’s seismometer on the Martian surface, December 19, 2018.

Cool crater portraits aren’t the only seasonal gifts we’re getting from our Martian robots this week.

NASA also announced that its InSight lander, which touched down on Mars on November 26, successfully placed its seismometer on the surface with its robotic arm on Wednesday.

This marked the first time that a seismometer has been placed on an alien world. This instrument is designed to pick up “Marsquakes” caused by geological faults or asteroid impacts, like the one that formed Korolev crater.

InSight’s timetable of activities on Mars has gone better than we hoped,” said InSight project manager Tom Hoffman in a statement. “Getting the seismometer safely on the ground is an awesome Christmas present.”

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Pass it on: New Scientist

The Weirdest Weather Events of 2018 So Far


We’ve already seen our share of winter storms, severe weather, cold outbreaks, flooding and droughts so far in 2018. But there are some weather events every year that are downright strange, and this year is no exception.

The events we consider strange are weather phenomena happening repeatedly in one place, in a place where you wouldn’t think they would occur or during an unusual time of year.

Some are phenomena you may not find in a Weather 101 textbook.

Freezing Rain in Florida

Just after New Year’s Day, Winter Storm Grayson blanketed Tallahassee, Florida, with its first measurable snow since 1989, and the first January such occurrence, there, in records dating to 1885.

That’s eye-catching enough.  What was even more bizarre was seeing an ice accumulation map involving the Sunshine State.

Up to a quarter inch of ice accumulation was measured in Lake City, and light icing on elevated surfaces was reported as far south as Levy County.

A Horseshoe Cloud

A horseshoe cloud was captured over Battle Mountain, Nevada on Mar. 8, 2018.

While the nor’easter parade was hammering the East Coast, a bizarre cloud was captured in video over Nevada in early March.

As meteorologist Jonathan Belles explained, this rare horseshoe vortex is fleeting, lasting only minutes, when a relatively flat cloud moves over a column of rising air, which also gives the cloud some spin.

A State Record Hailstone

The hailstone that was saved from a March 19, 2018, hailstorm near Cullman, Alabama, later to be found to set a state record.

Alabama’s notorious history of severe weather, particularly tornadoes, is well documented.  On March 19, however, it was a hailstone that captured meteorologists’ attention.

One softball-size hailstone near Cullman, Alabama, was found to set a new state record, more than 5 inches in diameter.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Parts Of The Arctic Spiked To 45 Degrees Above Normal

In December, a team of U.S. government scientists released a “report card” on the Arctic. Their top conclusion was pithy, comprehensive, and bleak. The Arctic, they said, “shows no sign of returning to [the] reliably frozen region of recent past decades.”

Now, it’s almost like the environment is trying to prove them right.

Though the sun hasn’t shone on the central Arctic for more than four months, the region is currently gripped by historic, record-breaking warmth.

On Sunday, the temperature at the North Pole rose to about the melting point, and parts of the Arctic were more than 50 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than normal.

A handful of Arctic scientists spent the weekend on Twitter, trying to put the episode into context:

To understand how strange the recent Arctic weather is, it’s worth looking at a place called Cape Morris Jesup.

Cape Morris Jesup is a barren and uninhabited promontory above the Arctic Ocean. Just 450 miles from the North Pole, it is Greenland’s northernmost point.

The sun hasn’t shone on Cape Morris Jesup since October 11. These should be among the coldest weeks of the year for the cape.

But over the weekend, the weather station there recorded an air temperature of 43 degrees Fahrenheit, more than 50 degrees above normal for this time of year.

The weird warmth was not limited to that one spot. Station Nord, a scientific research station in Greenland nearly 200 miles to the southeast, recorded temperatures of about 36.5 degrees Fahrenheit this weekend.

The Climate Reanalyzer, a tool from the University of Maine, uses data from the U.S. weather model to show how far temperatures have deviated from historic norms. On February 26, 2018, the Arctic was almost 5.4 degrees Celsius (about 10 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than normal, while much of Europe was almost 10 degrees Celsius colder than normal.

These kinds of on-the-ground observations aren’t available for the North Pole.

But by combing satellite observations and other temperature data, the top U.S. forecast model estimated that temperatures at the North Pole rose as high as 35 degrees Fahrenheit.

At this time of year, sea ice should still be growing and expanding. But recent satellite observations have shown that two large gaps have somehow opened up in the ice. The first is in the Chukchi Sea, near Russia.

How rare is this kind of Arctic warmth? Climate scientists say they have seen events similar to this one happen before, but that the size and intensity of the warmth made it really notable.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Thermal Transfer ‘Melt Mat’ Clears Snow From Paths And Driveways

Known as the Melt Mat, it consists of a thin sheet of aluminium spray-coated with an ultra-flat black paint.

When draped over a snowbank, the Melt Mat absorbs energy from the sun’s rays at an accelerated rate, transferring the heat directly onto the highly-reflective snow.

According to the study, which is published in the journal Langmuir, snowbanks can melt three times faster when a thermally absorptive blanket is placed on top.

Generally, snow reflects about three-quarters of the sun’s radiation back into the air, so it’s actually really hard for the sun to melt a snowbank,” said Jonathan Boreyko, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering and mechanics and the team’s faculty advisor.

Even if temperatures are above freezing and the sun is out, the snow’s surface just bounces most of the heat right off. That’s the fundamental problem we’re trying to address here.

Some cities in the US spend up to $125m each year clearing snow from roads and public spaces, using a combination of vehicles and gas-powered heaters.

In 2016, Boreyko pitched the idea for a thermal absorptive blanket, something that would not only absorb the sun’s heat but could also conduct that heat across the blanket’s surface to accelerate melting times.

The students then spent a year designing and experimenting with different materials, finally settling on the Melt Mat’s configuration.

Having obtained a provisional patent, the Virginia Tech team now hopes to licence the technology to an established company and work towards a full patent.

The idea for a thermal absorptive blanket is novel, but also very practical,” said Boreyko.

For novelty’s sake, the team really needed to go for a journal publication. For practicality’s sake, we went for a patent. They ended up getting both.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Make Your Own Fake Snow From Clean Diapers

Materials to Make Fake Snow:

  • Diaper
  • Scissors
  • Water
  • Large, deep container (to store your snow and hold it while the children play)

Directions to make Fake Snow:

(The polymer sodium polyacrylate inside of diapers expands when it gets wet.  We’re basically harvesting the stuff and then getting it wet to “grow” our snow.)

1. Cut out the bottom of your diaper. Then, carefully peel out the white, fluffy, cottony stuff. Place it inside of a deep container.

(Note: Choose a nice large, and deep container.)

2.  Add water, a little at a time.  The white fluffy stuff will become mushier and mushier.

3.  Use your hands to smoosh up the white stuff.  It will feel slightly wet and squishy.  Keep smooshing and soon you’ll have a bunch of fake snow.

4.  To make your fake snow seem more realistic, place it in the fridge to make it colder or add animals.

Now you’re ready to play!

5.  When you’re done, DON’T FLUSH the stuff down the drain! You don’t want to clog it.  Just throw it away in the trash.

Have fun playing with your fake snow!

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Sky Watching Tips And Tricks For Cold Northern Nights

For much of the contiguous United States this winter has been marked by perpetual ice, snow as well as the now infamous polar vortex.

Such conditions might make even the most committed stargazer think twice before venturing outdoors.

Stepping outside to enjoy a view of the constellation Orion, Jupiter or even just the waxing moon these frosty nights takes only a minute or two, but if you plan to stay outside longer, remember that enjoying the starry winter sky requires protection against the cold temperatures.

The best garments are a hooded ski parka and ski pants, both of which are lightweight and provide excellent insulation. And remember your feet.

Two pairs of warm socks in loose-fitting shoes are quite adequate; for protracted observing on bitter-cold nights wear insulated boots.

Reach for the binoculars

In weather like this, one quickly will realize the advantage of using a pair of good binoculars over a telescope.

A person who attempts to set even a so-called “portable” scope up in bitter temperatures or blustery winds might give up even before he or she got started.

But binoculars can be hand-held and will produce some quickly magnified images of celestial objects before rushing back inside to escape the frigidity.


In their handy observing guide, “The Stars” (Golden Press, N.Y.), authors Herbert Zim and Robert Baker write that “the sky is never clearer than on cold, sparkling winter nights.

“It is at these times that the fainter stars are seen in great profusion. Then the careful observer can pick out dim borderline stars and nebulae that cannot be seen when the sky is less clear.

What Zim and Baker were referring to is sky transparency, which is always at its best during the winter season. That’s because Earth’s atmosphere is not as hazy because it is less moisture laden.

Cold air has less capacity to hold moisture, therefore the air is drier and thus much clearer as opposed to the summer months when the sky appears hazier.

But this clarity can also come at a price.

Seeing through the twinkles

If you step outside on one of those “cold, sparkling nights” you might notice the stars twinkling vibrantly.

This is referred to as scintillation, and to the casual observer looking skyward, they might think of such a backdrop as the perfect night for an astronomer, but it isn’t.

This is because when looking skyward, skywatchers are trying to see the sky through various layers of a turbulent atmosphere.

Were we to train a telescope on a star, or a bright planet like Mars, what we would end up with is a distorted image that either seems to shake or quiver or simply “boils” to the extent that you really can’t see very much in terms of any detail.

Forecasting sky conditions

If you own a telescope, you don’t need to wait for balmy summer nights to get good views. Usually, a few days after a big storm or frontal passage, the center of a dome of high pressure will build in to bring clear skies and less wind.

And while the sky might not seem quite as “crisp” or “pristine” as it was a few days earlier, the calming effect of less winds will afford you a view of less turbulent and clearer images through your telescope.

More comfortable nights ahead

If you plan on heading out on a cold winter’s night — and if you’re doing it while under a dome of high pressure — the fact that there is less wind means not only potentially good seeing, but also more comfort viewing conditions.

The end of winter is in sight though. The Northern Hemisphere is officially halfway through the winter season and milder, more comfortable nights are within reach.

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Pass it on: Popular Science


The Ultimate Guide In Making The Perfect Snowball

Moisture and air content

Light powder snow is the driest kind, containing lots of air. This snow makes for terrible snowballs because it won’t pack – and it won’t pack because of its low moisture content.

Try looking for a place where you know the snow will be slightly warmer. The heat given off by a house, for example, could make snow just moist enough to make it good for snowballs.

Be patient. If all else fails, lie down on some snow for a few minutes; your body heat will begin to melt the snow just a bit, providing that moisture you need to pack it better.


The ideal temperature for snowballs is right around freezing. If you know the temperature is around 32F (0C), then don’t waste your time scooping snow from near a house; the world’s your oyster!

Depth of the snow

If you have more than a few inches, skip the snow on the very surface; your strategy should be to scoop snow out from underneath.

Why? It has already been packed together gently, which means less work for you.

Even the lightest snow, after an accumulation like this, will be easier to pack after being buried beneath snow layers.

Gloves or mitts?

For a snowball fight, choose gloves. Avoid ­mittens for a couple serious reasons. If they feel warmer, it’s because less heat is escaping them.

But a little bit of heat from our hands helps immensely when it comes to packing snow into a snowball, so gloves make more sense.

Not only that, but have you ever tried to throw a snowball in mittens?

It’s reminiscent of those childhood nightmares in which you’re trying to defend yourself from some villain, but you have absolutely no ­physical strength.

The delicate art of packing

Scoop up enough snow to fill your cupped hands. You’ll inevitably lose a little of it as you pack, and the packing will condense the snow as well.

From this cupped position, slowly close your hands together and begin rotating them as if you were trying to trap an insect without killing it.

Apply increasing pressure as you rotate your hands into this position, and once they are hiding most of the snow, increase your pressure.

Rotate your hands back and forth slightly as you do; you’ll hear the muted sounds of friction as the snowflakes compress.

Be careful not to pack too forcefully. If you don’t apply enough pressure, the snowball will never be firm, but too much force applied too rapidly will cause the snowball to fall apart.

Gradual pressure allows you to withdraw pressure as you feel resistance.

A perfect snowball should leave its mark.

If you have found the right snow and applied that magic amount of pressure, your snowball should leave a clinging mark, physically and psychologically – a brief mark of humiliation on your foe.

But there’s little time to wallow in self-admiration. You have to start all over again.

You’re a snowball artist, one of the most romantic of all arts – alternately pure and transgressive but, above all, ephemeral.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

3D-Printed Chains of Ice And The Robot-Assisted Igloos Of The Future

A small but dedicated team led by Pieter Sijpkes and Jorge Angeles has been spear-heading the experimental use of ice at the university.

Creating everything from 3D-printed chains to what they describe as “commercial and industrial part modeling” used in fabrication, including full-scale construction tests for “the ice-tourism industry.”

For instance,” they explain, “small-scale ice models represent economical alternatives to intricate 3D models of architectural objects, be they scale models of buildings, site models, or building details.

Why prototype in plastic, in other words, when you can simply use the renewable, re-meltable, and re-freezable resource of freshwater?

Awesomely, like something out of the X-Men, Sijpkes and Angeles add that “casting techniques are being investigated in order to produce high-quality metal copies from ice originals.”

Here’s how the printing is done:

The idea is that you deposit a very thin bead of water onto your build surface is the same way that would extrude plastic.”

“Once a layer has been laid down there would be a delay of a few minutes while it freezes in the cold build chamber.”

“Once frozen, the next layer is deposited and the process repeats. By keeping the beads of water only a few millimeters in size surface tension alone should be enough to keep them in place.”

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Pass it on: Popular Science