Mars has clouds made up of water ice, but unlike Earth, it also has clouds made up of carbon dioxide, which form when the weather becomes cold enough to freeze the planet.
NASA scientists hope to solve a fundamental mystery about Mars’ atmosphere by inviting the public to learn about Martian clouds using the Zooniverse platform.
Information from the Cloudspotting on Mars initiative may help researchers understand why the planet’s atmosphere is only 1% denser than Earth’s, despite plenty of evidence to suggest that the planet’s was much thicker.
The air pressure is so low that liquid water simply evaporates from the planet’s surface into the atmosphere. But billions of years ago, lakes and rivers covered Mars, indicating that the atmosphere must have been thicker at the time.
How did Mars lose its atmosphere over time? One theory proposes that various mechanisms can lift water into the atmosphere, as solar radiation breaks these water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen (water is made of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom). Hydrogen is light enough to float in space.
By understanding where and how these clouds appeared, scientists hope to better understand the structure of Mars’ middle atmosphere, which is about 50 to 80 kilometers in height.
“We want to know what stimulates cloud formation, especially glacial water clouds, which can teach us how high water vapor reaches the atmosphere, and during which seasons,” said Marek Slepsky, a postdoctoral researcher at UCLA, in a statement. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
This is where Cloudspotting on Mars comes in. The project revolves around a 16-year record of data from the agency’s Mars Exploration Orbiter (MRO), which has been studying the red planet since 2006. The spacecraft’s Mars Climate Sounder instrument studies the atmosphere in infrared light, which is invisible to humans. eye. In measurements made by the instrument as MRO orbits Mars, clouds appear as arcs. The team needs help sifting through that data into the Zooniverse, pinpointing the arcs so scientists can study where they occur in the atmosphere more efficiently.
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