Planets, Universe

Global Storms Launch Dust Towers Into The Martian Sky

No other planet has inspired the human imagination in our Solar System more than Mars. This is because the Red Planet has historically been considered the world most likely to be the faraway home of life beyond Earth. While this viewpoint has certainly become far outdated, Mars still entices Earthlings with its rusty-red surface, etched with small valleys carved into slopes that are eerily similar in shape to gullies formed by rushing water flowing over the surface of our own planet — and where liquid water exists, life, as we know it, may also exist. But, today, Mars is a frigid and dry wasteland, where violent dust storms are common — but something unpredictable happens every ten years or so, and a series of runaway storms break out, covering the entire planet in a dense shroud of swirling dust. In November 2019, planetary scientists confirmed that a NASA spacecraft fleet has managed to get a clear look at the life cycle of the huge — and highly destructive—2018 global dust storm that prematurely ended the exploration project of the visiting rover Opportunity on the Red Planet’s surface.

Planetary scientists are also researching fresh and confusing evidence at this period. Nonetheless, two articles have been released recently that shone fresh light on a phenomenon seen happening inside the massive storm of dust — dust towers that are dense clouds of dust that are warm in sunlight and then grow up into the air. Planetary scientists have suggested that water vapor, imprisoned by the dense, swirling dust, maybe riding them in a manner comparable to an elevator into space, where radiation from our Sun rips their molecules apart. This idea may help to understand how the Martian water vanished over billions of years.

Our Solar System is approximately 4.6 billion years old. Mars might have had a much denser atmosphere than it does today until around 3.8 billion years ago, as well as higher surface temperatures. These ancient conditions may have required the presence of massive quantities of liquid water on the Martian floor, including a wide ocean-spanning one-third of the earth.

Nearly all of Mars’ water today is in the form of ice, although some of it also exists in its atmosphere as water vapor. The only place on the Martian surface where water ice is visible is at the north polar ice cap. Under the permanent carbon dioxide ice cap at the Martian south pole, however, a large amount of water ice is also present, as well as under more temperate conditions in the shallow subsurface.

More than 21 million kilometers of ice on or near the Martian surface has been discovered. This amounts to enough water ice to cover a depth of 115 feet over the entire planet. Water ice is even more likely to lurk in the deep Martian subsurface.

Because of their currently dry conditions, large quantities of dust have formed on the surface of the Red Planet. Dust towers churn huge clouds that climb considerably higher in the thin Martian atmosphere than the normal background dust. Although dust towers have also been seen under more normal conditions, as a result of global storms they appear to be forming in greater numbers.

A tower forms initially on the surface of a planet. It starts as a rapidly lifted dust area that is approximately as large as Rhode Island. By the time this dusty tower reaches the lofty height of 50 miles, as observed during the infamous global dust storm of 2018, it may be as broad as Nevada ‘s state. As the tower begins to lose strength, it can form a dust layer 35 miles above a planet’s surface, which may be larger than the entire continental United States.

The 2019 findings concerning the exotic Martian dust towers were derived from the courtesy of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) of NASA, headed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory ( JPL) in Pasadena , California, of the agency. Although dust storms blanket the Martian surface, MRO can use its Mars Climate Sounder heat-sensing instrument to penetrate the heavy haze. The instrument is specifically designed to measure dust levels. Its info, together with pictures taken from a camera onboard the Mars Context Imager (MARC) orbiter, allowed planetary scientists to see multiple growing dust towers.

The Realm Of The Red Planet

Mars is our Sun’s fourth planet, which after Mercury is the second-smallest main planet of our Sun ‘s population. In English, because of their rusty-red hue, Mars is named for the Roman god of war. That reddish hue comes with the help of the large amounts of iron oxide on the Martian soil, which is peculiar to the celestial bodies that appear to the unassisted human eye. Mars is a large, earthly planet which shows only a thin atmosphere. It also has surface features reminiscent of Earth’s Moon’s impact craters as well as the Earth’s polar ice caps, valleys, and deserts.

The Martian days and seasons are equally identical to those in our own world. This is because both sister worlds are similar for both the rotational period as well as the tilt of the rotational axis relative to the ecliptic plane. Mars also houses Olympus Mons, the biggest volcano in our entire solar system, and the highest known peak. Another characteristic of the earth, called Valles Marineris, is one of the biggest canyons in the common family of planets, moons, and smaller bodies of our Sun.

Located in the northern Martian hemisphere, the smooth Borealis basin covers 40 percent of the planet and is believed to be a gigantic impact scar left by a huge crashing object. A duo of tiny moons, Phobos and Deimos, which are irregularly shaped and resembling potatoes, also circles Mars. The two little moons are treated as asteroids captured.

Ancient Egyptian sky-watchers made the first observations of Mars. By 1534 BCE, these early astronomers already knew about the Red Planet’s retrograde motion. By the time of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, the Babylonian sky-watchers made regular records of planetary positions as well as systematic conduct studies. The ancient astronomers found in the case of the Red Planet that it made 42 zodiac circuits every 79 years. These ancient astronomers also invented statistical techniques to render small adjustments to the planets’ expected locations in our Solar System. The ancient sky-watchers named “flying stars” to the planets.

The ancient Greek scientist Aristotle noted in the 4th century BCE that Mars vanished after an occultation beyond the Earth’s Sun. It meant the Red Planet was more far from Earth than our Sun. The Greek astronomer, Ptolemy—who resided in Alexandria, Egypt—tried to establish Mars’ orbital motion, and his combined works and astronomy concept were introduced under the title Almagest in his multi-volume series. For the next 4 decades, the Almagest became the definitive work on Western astronomy.

Ancient Chinese astronomers were also familiar with Mars by the fourth century BCE at the latest. The Indian astronomic study called Surya Siddhanta proposed a calculation of the Red Planet ‘s approximate diameter in the fifth century CE. Mars is usually called the “fire star” in East Asian cultures — based on the Five Elements: wood, water, earth, metal, and fire.

In the 17th century, astronomer Tycho Brahe calculated Mars’ diurnal parallax and was used by Johannes Kepler to create early measurements of Mars’ distance from Earth. The diurnal parallax of Mars was determined to make this measurement in 1692 when the earliest telescopes, used for astronomical purposes, became available. However, due to the poor quality of the telescopes, those early measurements were flawed.

Mars has not always looked the way we now see it. Billions of years ago, The Red Planet suffered a catastrophic tilt. The Martian poles were not located where they are now before this tilt occurred.

New studies are ongoing assessing the Red Planet ‘s historical habitability capacity, as well as the likelihood of current life. Future studies on astrobiology are actually under preparation. The Mars 2020 and Rosalind Franklin rovers are among those missions. Because of the low atmospheric pressure, which amounts to less than 1 percent of Earth’s, liquid water can not pool on the Martian surface today — except at the lowest elevations for short periods.

The United States, Britain, India, and the Soviet Union have sent hundreds of crewless missions, including rovers, orbiters, and landers, to Mars. Those missions observed the surface, climate, and geology of the Red Planet. Cameras in orbit around Mars have sent a cornucopia of startling photos of the “hot light” back to our world over the past twenty years.

Dust Towers In The Martian Sky

Although dust towers form throughout the Martian year, MRO has observed something unusual about the catastrophic global dust storm of 2018. “Normally the dust would fall in a day or so, but during a global storm, dust towers are constantly being renewed for weeks,” the lead author of the paper, Dr. Nicholas Heavens, commented in a November 26, 2019, JPL Press Release. In Hampton, Virginia, Dr. Heavens is from Hampton University.

Numerous towers were observed in several instances for approximately 4 weeks.

Dr. Heavens and his colleagues were amazed by the amount of dust development. But what they found particularly intriguing was the possibility for other material to function as “space elevators” for dust towers. If this proves to be the case, then dust towers can play an important role in transporting other materials through the atmosphere in Marti. When airborne dust heats up, it creates updrafts that bring gases along for the ride — including tiny quantities of water vapor often seen on Mars in the form of wispy clouds.

Dr. Heavens had shown in an earlier paper that water molecules were launched high into the upper atmosphere during a global Martian dust storm in 2007, where radiation from our Sun could break them down into particles that escape crying out into interplanetary space. That mechanism could provide an important indication of how trillions of years ago the Red Planet lost its lakes and rivers, thus becoming the frigid and desolate wasteland it is today.

Planetary scientists don’t know how global dust storms are forming. This is because they have so far only been able to study fewer than a dozen of these storms. But with further time to collect additional evidence, the MRO team can search for a better understanding of how dust towers shape within global storms and what part they may play in extracting water from the Martian atmosphere.

Dr. David Kass, JPL ‘s Climate Sounder scientist, commented to the press that “Global dust storms are truly unusual. We really don’t have anything like this on Earth where the weather of the whole planet has changed for several months.”

Mega Dust Storms | MARS