Massive Dust Storms on Mars lead to Water Loss of the Red Planet

Massive Dust Storms on Mars lead to Water Loss of the Red Planet

Does dust storms affect the climate change on Mars?

Scientists have been trying to explore life on other planets for many years now, Mars being the hottest contender in this regard. Water is an essential component for the existence of life and that was the reason why our neighbour was chosen. The surface of the Red Planet is dry and arid these days but it is a common belief among scientists from all around the world that it wasn’t always the case.

On the contrary, it is believed that Mars was submerged in an ocean of water, 100 meters deep at some time. There were clear signs of flowing water as a lot of riverbeds and minerals were found there. Many different theories have emerged over the years about how was Mars deprived of its water.

It is a well-known fact that atmosphere loss and Mars have been companions ever since. Initially, it was believed that the process of gas escaping leads to the freezing of the planet. Probably, the leading theory for many years has been that Mars could not support running water on its surface after losing its global magnetic field. The major reason for this was that the Martian air became very light.

The exact reason for drying up  is still not clear but recent in-depth analysis has shown us another side of the picture. The research shows that all the gas escaping is due to the huge dust and sand storms there. This study was conducted by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) of NASA and was published in the “Nature Astronomy“. All the supporting data was collected 10 years back in 2007 when a Martian global dust storm was observed. This publication has given a new angle to this mystery and we may get latest discoveries pretty soon as a massive dust storm is expected to occur on Mars this year. The intensity of that storm will be such big that it will engulf the entire planet. In this period Mars will be darker than usual.

During the dust storm of 2007, water vapors were found extremely high at about 80 kilometers in the atmosphere. Nicholas Heavens, who is the lead author of the study mentioned above, says “We found an increase in water vapor in the middle atmosphere in connection with dust storms.” This was the effect of the rocket dust storm. Ultraviolet rays have the ability to penetrate the atmosphere of the red planet at the height of 50 kilometers or more. This leads to a point where bonding between hydrogen and oxygen is broken down. Hydrogen escapes into space while Mars suffers heavy loss of water. According to reports from NASA and European Space Agency, this is one of the major causes of excessive hydrogen in space. They believe there is a direct link between the middle-atmosphere water vapor and the atmospheric hydrogen concentration.

A phenomenon called Deep Convection is often related here. You can consider the example of our planet to understand it in a much simpler way. As we know, sometimes different layers of air reach different temperatures due to which Earth experiences the movement of gases and aerosols. Similarly, in case of Mars, water is lifted from its surface which is then decomposed into smaller components before moving towards space.

In the recent past, Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN) was sent to Mars to gather data. The data showed an irregularity in the pattern of hydrogen escape from the surface. At that time scientists thought that there has to be some logical explanation for this non-uniform pattern. This is where that concept of dust storms affecting the water loss came to the scene for the first time. This changed the earlier mindset that escaping of hydrogen is related to solar activity. It was clearly evident from the dataset provided by MAVEN that this pattern is dependent on Martian season more than anything else.

For now, one thing is clear: dust storms have some serious impact on the climate of the Red Planet.

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