Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Ice clouds put mars in the shade

17.01.2008
Until now, Mars has generally been regarded as a desert world, where a visiting astronaut would be surprised to see clouds scudding across the orange sky. However, new results show that the arid planet possesses high-level clouds that are sufficiently dense to cast a shadow on the surface.

The results were obtained by the OMEGA Visible and Infrared Mineralogical Mapping Spectrometer instrument on board ESA’s Mars Express.

Mars is not entirely a haven for Sun worshippers. Clouds of water ice particles do occur, for example on the flanks of the giant Martian volcanoes. There have also been hints of much higher, wispy clouds made up of carbon dioxide (CO2) ice crystals. This is not too surprising, since the thin Martian atmosphere is mostly made of carbon dioxide, and temperatures on the fourth planet from the Sun often plunge well below the ‘freezing point’ of carbon dioxide.

Now, a team of French scientists has shown that such clouds of dry ice do, indeed, exist. Furthermore, they are sometimes so large and dense that they throw quite dark shadows on the dusty surface.

“This is the first time that carbon dioxide ice clouds on Mars have been imaged and identified from above,” said Franck Montmessin of the Service d’Aeronomie, University of Versailles (UVSQ), lead author of the paper in the Journal of Geophysical Research. “This is important because the images tell us not only about their shape, but also their size and density.

“Previously, we had to rely on indirect information – for example, from the SPICAM instrument on board Mars Express - to find out what the clouds are made of. However, it is very difficult to separate the signals coming from the clouds, the atmosphere and the surface.”

Data from the SPICAM Ultraviolet and Infrared Atmospheric Spectrometer indicated that any high altitude clouds are not very thick and made up of much smaller particles, but the CO2 clouds detected by OMEGA are very different. Not only are they surprisingly high – more than 80 km above the surface – but they can be several hundred kilometres across. They are also much thicker than expected. Instead of looking like the wispy ice clouds seen on Earth, they resemble tall convectional clouds that grow as the result of rising columns of warm air.

Even more surprising is the fact that the CO2 ice clouds are made of quite large particles - more than a micron (one thousandth of a millimetre) across – and they are sufficiently dense to noticeably dim the Sun. Normally, particles of this size would not be expected to form in the upper atmosphere or to stay aloft for very long before falling back towards the surface.

“The clouds imaged by OMEGA can reduce the Sun’s apparent brightness by up to 40 per cent,” said Montmessin. “This means that they cast quite a dense shadow and this has a noticeable effect on the local ground temperature. Temperatures in the shadow can be up to 10°C cooler than their surroundings, and this in turn modifies the local weather, particularly the winds.”

Since the CO2 clouds are mostly seen in equatorial regions, the OMEGA team believes that the unexpected shape of the clouds and large size of their ice crystals can be explained by the extreme variations in daily temperature that occur near the equator.

“The cold temperatures at night and relatively high day-time temperatures cause large diurnal waves in the atmosphere,” explained Montmessin. “This means there is a potential for large-scale convection, particularly as the morning Sun warms the ground.”

Bubbles of warm gas rise above the surface and when they reach high levels they become cold enough for CO2 to condense. This process releases latent heat, which causes the gas and the ice particles to rise even further.

What are the particles around which the CO2 ice condenses? On Earth, cloud droplets form around tiny nuclei – often particles of dust or salt. On Mars, the answer remains uncertain. One possibility is that Martian dust is carried to high altitudes. Another potential source of condensation nuclei is particles left behind by micrometeorites entering the upper atmosphere. Or the nuclei may simply be tiny crystals of water ice carried aloft on the thermal updraughts.

“This discovery is important when we come to consider the past climate of Mars,” said Montmessin. “The planet seems to have been much warmer billions of years ago, and one theory suggests that Mars was then blanketed with CO2 clouds. We can use our studies of present-day conditions to understand the role that such high level clouds could have played in the global warming of Mars.”

Agustin Chicarro | alfa
Further information:
http://www.esa.int/SPECIALS/Mars_Express/SEM1DV3MDAF_0.html

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Further Improvement of Qubit Lifetime for Quantum Computers
09.12.2016 | Forschungszentrum Jülich

nachricht Electron highway inside crystal
09.12.2016 | Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Electron highway inside crystal

Physicists of the University of Würzburg have made an astonishing discovery in a specific type of topological insulators. The effect is due to the structure of the materials used. The researchers have now published their work in the journal Science.

Topological insulators are currently the hot topic in physics according to the newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Only a few weeks ago, their importance was...

Im Focus: Significantly more productivity in USP lasers

In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.

Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...

Im Focus: Shape matters when light meets atom

Mapping the interaction of a single atom with a single photon may inform design of quantum devices

Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

Researchers identify potentially druggable mutant p53 proteins that promote cancer growth

09.12.2016 | Life Sciences

Scientists produce a new roadmap for guiding development & conservation in the Amazon

09.12.2016 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation

Satellites, airport visibility readings shed light on troops' exposure to air pollution

09.12.2016 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>