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One of the great mysteries of modern space science is neatly summed up by the view from NASA's Perseverance, which just landed on Mars: Today it's a desert planet, and yet the rover is sitting right next to an ancient river delta.

The apparent contradiction has puzzled scientists for decades, especially because at the same time that Mars had flowing rivers, it was getting less than a third as much sunshine as we enjoy today on Earth.

But a new study led by University of Chicago planetary scientist Kite, an assistant professor of geophysical sciences and an expert on climates of other worlds, uses a computer model to put forth a promising explanation: Mars could have had a thin layer of icy, high-altitude clouds that caused a greenhouse effect.

"There's been an embarrassing disconnect between our evidence, and our ability to explain it in terms of physics and chemistry," said Kite. "This hypothesis goes a long way toward closing that gap."

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