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On Earth, clouds form when enough droplets of water condense out of the air. And those droplets require a tiny speck of dust or sea salt, called a condensation nuclei, to form. In Earth’s atmosphere, those tiny specks of dust are lofted high into the atmosphere where they trigger cloud formation. But on Mars?
Mars has something else going on.
Scientists - Clouds - Mars - Middle - Atmosphere
Planetary scientists have observed clouds in Mars’ middle atmosphere for a long time. The middle atmosphere begins about 30 km (18 miles) above the surface. But scientists have never observed the dust particles necessary to seed those clouds in that part of the atmosphere.
A new study says that meteorites play a role in triggering the formation of the clouds.
Clouds - Victoria - Hartwick - Student - Laboratory
“Clouds don’t just form on their own,” said Victoria Hartwick, grad student at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at CU Boulder, and lead author of the paper. “They need something that they can condense onto.”
Every day, about three tons of dust enters the Martian atmosphere. The dust ablates from meteors at an altitude of about 80-90km (50-56 miles.) Some of it re-coagulates into particles large enough to act as condensation nuclei. According to the study, water ice clouds form on those nuclei, creating the clouds observed in Mars’ middle atmosphere.
Key - Study - NASA - MAVEN - Mars
A key to this study comes from NASA’s MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution) spacecraft. MAVEN detected the meteor dust in pervasive layers high in the Martian atmosphere. According to the paper, this “suggests a continuous supply of meteoric smoke particles that settle to lower altitudes.”
Hartwick and her team turned to computer simulations of Mars’ atmosphere to see what role this high-altitude meteor dust played in cloud formation. The simulation was designed to mimic the flow and turbulence in Mars’ atmosphere.
Tons - Dust - Simulations - Clouds
Once they included this 3 tons of interplanetary dust, the simulations showed clouds...
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