Mars is known for its seasonal sandstorms that sometimes sweep across the planet.
In June 2018, a sandstorm was so powerful that it overshadowed most of the planet’s surface, causing NASA to lose contact with its roaring Opportunity, which ended fatally for this legendary spacecraft.
Studying these storms and their causes is critical to ensuring the operation of robotic missions operating on solar energy and the safety of future crew missions.
In particular, scientists are looking for seasonal changes that cause sandstorms to unite and grow.
According to a new study by scientists at the University of Houston, the reason for their formation may be a seasonal energy imbalance in the solar energy absorbed and released by the planet.
Such a conclusion could lead to a new understanding of the red planet’s climate and atmosphere.
The term “radiant energy budget” refers to the amount of solar energy that the planet absorbs from the sun and then radiates as heat. This is a fundamental measure of the planet’s climate and meteorological cycles.
As part of the study, the team compared observational data from various missions, including the Mars Global Surveyor, the Curiosity spacecraft, and the static spacecraft InSight.
The result was a model of Mars’ climate and estimated the amount of energy it emits globally by season, including during sandstorms.
“One of the most interesting discoveries is that excess energy – absorbing more energy than generated – may be one of the mechanisms by which sandstorms are generated on Mars,” said Ellen Grace, a researcher at the University of Houston.
In a photo taken for Mars by the Hubble Space Telescope in June 2001 (left), storm embryos appeared in the giant crater of Hellas and in the North Polar Cap.
The results revealed strong seasonal and diurnal variability in the solar energy radiated by Mars.
In particular, the researchers found evidence of a strong energy imbalance, ~ 15.3 percent between seasons on Mars, which is 0.4 percent in the case of Earth. They also found that during the 2001 planet-wide storm, the amount of energy released globally decreased by 22 percent during the day and increased by 29 percent at night.
“Our results show a strong energy imbalance, which indicates that current digital models need to be revised, as they suggest that the radiant energy of Mars is balanced between the seasons of the planet. In addition, the results show a link between sandstorms and energy imbalances; “Therefore, we may have new information about the formation of sandstorms on Mars,” the researchers wrote.
In combination with digital models of the Martian climate, the results obtained by the team of researchers may improve our understanding of the Martian climate and atmospheric circulation. This will be especially important for future manned missions planned by NASA and China in the next decade.
In addition, these results can improve our understanding of the Earth’s climate by predicting how our environment might behave one day. As always, a better study of the planet’s environment will inevitably lead to a better study of our planet.
The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Prepared according to Universe Today.