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Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Mars’ massive dust towers could explain why water dried up on the planet

Observations made by NASA spacecraft have given further insight into global dust storms on Mars. These dust storms could also hold clues to how Mars eventually ended up losing its water over time.

By: Tech Desk | New Delhi | Updated: November 27, 2019 4:16:00 pm
Mars Dust Storms: The view from May shows Valles Marineris chasms (left), Meridiani center, an autumn dust storm in Acidalia (top) and the early spring south polar cap (bottom). The view from July shows the same regions, but most of the surface was obscured by the planet-encircling dust cloud and haze. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

Observations made by NASA spacecraft have given further insight into how global dust storms on Mars can cover the entire planet in a haze with dust towers rising high into the air. These dust towers could also hold clues to how Mars eventually ended up losing its water over time.

One has to understand that these ‘global’ dust storms on Mars are a unique phenomena. “We really don’t have anything like this on the Earth, where the entire planet’s weather changes for several months,” David Kass, Climate Sounder scientist at Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in a press statement.

NASA revealed its fleet of spacecraft got a detailed look at the life cycle of the 2018 global dust storm. This storm also ended the Opportunity rover’s mission.  Two new papers from scientists have shown that dust towers or “concentrated clouds of dust that warm in sunlight” would rise into the air.

According to the scientists, there could be water vapour trapped in these dust towers. These dust towers are “massive, churning clouds that are denser and climb much higher than the normal background dust in the thin Martian atmosphere.”

The idea being explored is that these towers act as ‘space elevators’ for other material, including the small quantity of water vapour, which would eventually get broken down by solar radiation, allowing it to escape into space. This could explain how Mars lost water over time.

The dust towers on Mars can reach a height of 50 miles or 80 kilometres and while it decays, the dust tower forms a layer of dust nearly 35 miles or 56 kilometers above the surface when it starts to do. In the 2018, Mars global dust storm, scientists observed something different. These dust towers are renewed continuously for weeks. Multiple towers were seen for as long as three and a half weeks.

The data on these dust towers has come from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) which used its heat-sensing Mars Climate Sounder instrument to peer through the haze. The instrument is designed specifically for measuring dust levels, according to NASA.

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