Watch Clouds on Mars Drift by in Supercomputer Simulations

A data visualization generated by a supercomputer shows clouds growing and fading over a Martian day.
A data visualization generated by a supercomputer shows clouds growing and fading over a Martian day. (Image credit: NASA/Ames Research Center/D. Ellsworth)

Weather models are a daily staple of life on Earth, but they can go interplanetary as well, sometimes with a boost from Earth's most sophisticated computers.

That sort of work is on display in a newly released NASA data visualization showing how clouds grow and shrink over the course of a day on Mars. The visualization is the work of the Mars Climate Modeling Center at NASA's Ames Research Center in California, relying on the institution's supercomputing facility.

In the visualization, features visible on the surface of Mars include the four massive Tharsis volcanic mountains that stand out like knots in a wood plank. The vast Valles Marineris stretches out along the right-hand-side of the view, etched into the Red Planet's surface.

Related: There's a Strange Cloud on Mars Right Now, and It's Just Hanging Around

The visualization is based on data about the Martian northern hemisphere's summer. During that season, equatorial clouds tend to form overnight, then wander away during the day. It's mesmerizing to watch, but modeling efforts like these also help researchers better understand the climate of the Red Planet.

The clouds themselves consist of water ice, like terrestrial clouds, but are typically thinner. By studying visualizations like this, scientists have concluded that Martian clouds shape wind intensity and in turn the water cycle, according to a NASA statement

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Meghan is a senior writer at and has more than five years' experience as a science journalist based in New York City. She joined in July 2018, with previous writing published in outlets including Newsweek and Audubon. Meghan earned an MA in science journalism from New York University and a BA in classics from Georgetown University, and in her free time she enjoys reading and visiting museums. Follow her on Twitter at @meghanbartels.