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Minnesota colder than Mars? Experts clarify chilly facts

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With temperatures falling 30 degrees below zero or colder in the past few days, could northern Minnesota and places in Canada actually be as cold Mars?

That could be the case, at least according to some reports that have run rampant on the Internet the past few days.

But Smithsonian magazine and other media outlets are debunking the claims.

Smithsonian's report first gives the impression that it could be colder here on Earth: "In northern Minnesota right now, the temperature has dipped to a staggering -42 F. The chill is running so deep in the North Star State that it’s not only colder than in the lands above the Arctic Circle, it’s actually colder than some of the daily temperatures on Mars – you know, the planet 78 million miles further from the Sun on average."

The magazine goes on, however, to clarify some facts about the readings, obtained by NASA's Mars Rover Curiosity from the planet's Gale Crater. A Curiosity instrument in the last month indicated that daily highs where the rover was have hovered between -24 and -13 degrees Fahrenheit. NASA data suggests daily lows, however, have dipped to more than 100 degrees below zero in some places on the planet.

"To be fair," Smithsonian magazine said, "Mars is still way colder: the Curiosity rover is driving around in a crater at, roughly, the equivalent latitude of Venezuela."

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation said the "colder than Mars" observation originated on the Manitoba Museum Facebook page – and before too long the "news" was on Twitter, Facebook and blogs like Yahoo's Geekquinox.

Boing Boing also cautioned that comparing temperatures on different planets is like comparing apples to oranges.

The blog cited three reasons, starting with the separation of science fact from science fiction: "Contrary to what you might have learned from Star Trek and Star Wars, planets do not have a single climate."

"It's not reasonable to say 'Winnipeg is as cold as the surface of Mars,' unless you're going to specify where on Mars you are talking about," Boing Boing said.

In any event, Minnesota is certainly among the very coldest places on this planet. From MPR's Cathy Wurzer:

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