Why are the clouds on Mars so similar to the clouds on Earth?

(ORDO NEWS) — It turns out that cloud systems on Earth and cloud systems on Mars are remarkably similar, scientists have found.

Mars continues to amaze us with its many mysteries. While landers and rovers on the surface work tirelessly to find traces of life on Mars, several orbital missions are studying the planet from space.

Now, the European Space Agency’s Mars Express mission has shown that clouds similar to those found in Earth’s tropical regions are forming on Mars.

There is a huge difference between the atmospheres of Earth and Mars. Unlike Earth’s nitrogen- and oxygen-rich atmosphere, Mars’s atmosphere is composed almost entirely of carbon dioxide.

The density of the Martian atmosphere is less than one-fiftieth the density of the Earth’s atmosphere. This is comparable to the density at a height of 35 km above the Earth’s surface.

Cameras in orbit

The cloud patterns of both planets are remarkably similar despite their vast differences, perhaps because they were shaped by similar processes.

An in-depth study of two dust storms that occurred near the Martian North Pole in 2019 has been published in a new study.

Storms were observed at the North Pole in the spring around the receding ice cap. One of the cameras used to study Mars is the MARCI camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Two cameras aboard Mars Express – the Visual Monitoring Camera (VMC) and the High-Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) – were also used to image the storms from orbit.

Over the course of several days, a sequence of images taken by the VMC camera showed that the storms come and go in repeating cycles, with similar shapes and features.

Incredible resemblance

The images taken by HRSC show spiral shapes in a wide section.

Their origin is similar to that of extratropical cyclones in the middle latitudes and polar latitudes of the Earth, whose length is from 1000 to 2000 km. Mars shows a characteristic phenomenon, as seen in the pictures.

According to them, Martian dust storms consist of small clouds arranged in a regular pattern, like grains or pebbles.

The Earth’s atmosphere also has a similar cloud texture. Because hot air is less dense than cold air, convection creates familiar textures.

This type of convection looks like closed-cell convection, with air rising inside small pockets of clouds. Cooler air can sink below hot air in gaps in the sky around cloud cells. On Earth, clouds form when water condenses in rising air.

As seen with Mars Express, dust clouds on Mars are formed by the same process, but the columns of rising air are mostly dust, not water.

Under the influence of solar heat, air saturated with dust rises and forms dust cells. Around the cells is an area of ​​descending air, in which there is less dust.

As scientists have found, this leads to the appearance of a grainy pattern, familiar to us from the clouds on Earth.


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