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Clouds moving above the Curiosity rover on Mars. Gif: NASA/JPL-Caltech

A new study in the journal Nature Geoscience finds meteors may be responsible for helping to form clouds in Mars' middle atmosphere, about 18 miles above the ground.

Why it matters: Learning more about the red planet's current climate could help scientists piece together the world's past. The origins of the clouds in the middle atmosphere were a mystery until now.

Details: Meteors deliver about 2 to 3 tons of space debris to Mars each day. The new study suggests the "meteoric smoke" produced when these space rocks break up in the Martian atmosphere allow water molecules to coalesce around the bits of dust, forming clouds.

  • The study used computer simulations to piece together how these mysterious clouds form.
  • When the researchers added in material brought to Mars by meteors, the clouds in the middle atmosphere appeared in the model.
  • Other clouds on Mars, particularly in lower parts of the planet's atmosphere, form when dust is kicked up from the Martian surface.

What they found: The wispy clouds may play an important role in determining the temperature in the Martian atmosphere, which could vary by as much as 18°F, 10°C, depending on the cloud cover, the researchers say.

Be smart: Meteoric smoke also helps form clouds on Earth. One explanation for noctilucent clouds that form high in Earth's atmosphere centers around meteor dust.

Go deeper

Ben Geman, author of Generate
18 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Biden to sign major climate orders, setting up clash with oil industry

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President Biden will sign new executive actions today that provide the clearest signs yet of his climate plans — elevating the issue to a national security priority and kicking off an intense battle with the oil industry.

Driving the news: One move will freeze issuance of new oil-and-gas leases on public lands and waters "to the extent possible," per a White House summary.

The rebellion against Silicon Valley (the place)

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Smith Collection/Gado via Getty Images

Silicon Valley may be a "state of mind," but it's also very much a real enclave in Northern California. Now, a growing faction of the tech industry is boycotting it.

Why it matters: The Bay Area is facing for the first time the prospect of losing its crown as the top destination for tech workers and startups — which could have an economic impact on the region and force it to reckon with its local issues.

Erica Pandey, author of @Work
4 hours ago - Economy & Business

Telework's tax mess

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

As teleworkers flit from city to city, they're creating a huge tax mess.

Why it matters: Our tax laws aren't built for telecommuting, and this new way of working could have dire implications for city and state budgets.

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