Using ten years of accumulated data from Europe’s Mars Express orbiter scientists have found that the Martian atmosphere appears to behave as a single unit, with changes its upper and lower levels closely connected.
“We discovered a surprising and significant increase in the amount of charged particles in the upper atmosphere during springtime in the Northern hemisphere, which is when the mass in the lower atmosphere is growing as ice sublimates from the northern polar cap,” adds Beatriz.
Mars’ polar caps are made up of a mix of water ice and frozen carbon dioxide. Each winter, up to a third of the mass in Mars’ atmosphere condenses to form an icy layer at each of the planet’s poles. Every spring, some of the mass within these caps sublimates to rejoin the atmosphere, and the caps visibly shrink as a result. “This sublimation process was thought to mostly only affect the lower atmosphere – we didn’t expect to see its effects clearly propagating upwards to higher levels,” says co-author Olivier Witasse of the European Space Agency, and former ESA Project Scientist for Mars Express. “It’s very interesting to find a connection like this.”
The finding suggests that the atmosphere of Mars behaves as a single system.
This finding might also explain why periodically Mars experiences a planet-wide dust storm, as it is doing right now.
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