Return Of The Elongated Mysterious Cloud On Mars (1800 km!)
Did you know that Earth isn’t the only planet in the solar system to have clouds?
Even on the Red Planet, there are clouds.
Astronomers are aware of this, and they found a strange cloud, long about 1800 km, that acts weirdly. Every few years in spring or summer, this curious cloud returns, before disappearing once again. Ladies and gentlemen, fasten your seatbelts because we are going to talk about the resolution to one of the strangest mysteries of the Mars planet!
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With a human mission to Mars somewhere on the horizon, the planet is being scrutinized more than ever before. Currently, 8 orbiters are operating on the planet and some surface missions. As of February 2021, there are two operational rovers on the surface of Mars, the Curiosity and Perseverance rovers, both operated by the United States of America space agency NASA. A third rover, part of the Tianwen-1 mission, is currently attached to its orbiter and is planned to land in May 2021.
All of this just to say that if a cloud with a trail of about 1800 km suddenly emerges, it’s pretty easy for us to spot her.
In fact, in 2018, a camera onboard the Mars Express mission caught sight of a strangely long and wispy cloud, billowing across the surface of the red planet.
From a distance, the 1,800-kilometer trail of fog almost resembled a plume of smoke – but it wasn’t! – and it seemed to be emerging from the top of a long- volcano. A unique scenario!
Looking back at other archived images, researchers soon realized this actually had been happening for a while. Every few years in spring or summer, this curious cloud would return, before disappearing once again. The fleeting plume was caught on camera in 2009, 2012, 2015, 2018, and again in 2020.
A newly published study has now detailed the reasons behind why this long cloud keeps coming and going on Mars. To do this, researchers compared high-resolution observations of the 2018 plume to other archived observations, some of which stretch back all the way to the 1970s.
Here’s the cloud’s story. Each year, around the start of spring or summer in the southern Martian hemisphere, the Arsia Mons Elongated Cloud begins to take shape. The southern solstice is when the Sun is in its southernmost position in the sky. Since a Martian year is about twice as long as an Earth year—687 days compared to 365—the seasons last about twice as long. This cloud grows each morning during the season, for about three hours. Then, it disappears. We want to say it again: this cloud grows and disappears, daily!
The massive extinct volcano that is home to the cloud is Arsia Mons, a 20 km high (12.4 miles) landmark on Mars’ surface. But what’s the difference between Mars clouds and Earth clouds? On Earth, clouds are made from water whereas, on other planets, they could be made from a different substance such as Methane such as on Saturn.
Earth clouds are created when the water at the ground/sea level is heated and evaporates into the upper atmosphere. When the water reaches a certain height depending on environmental conditions at the time will group with other water to form clouds. When the pressure dips, the clouds begin to break up in the form of precipitation (rain/sleet/snow/hailstorms) and fall to Earth. The fallen water drops will eventually go back up into the atmosphere to form new clouds.
Mars, instead, is too cold for liquid water, so the cloud is made of water ice. Though it looks like it could be a plume from the volcano, it’s not. All of Mars’ volcanic activity ceased a long time ago.
Talking about our beautiful and mysterious Martian cloud, at dawn, dense air from the base of the Arsia Mons volcano begins to climb up the western slope. As temperatures drop, this wind expands and the moisture within it condenses around particles of dust, creating what here on Earth we call an orographic cloud.
Do you know what’s an “Orographic cloud”?
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