Entire Martian atmosphere appears to act as a single unit

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.

Titan’s atmosphere is unexpectedly unbalanced

The uncertainty of science: New data from the ground-based telescope ALMA suggest that certain organic molecules in Titan’s atmosphere are not evenly distributed through the atmosphere as expected.

At the highest altitudes, the pockets of organic molecules were shifted away from the poles. These off-pole concentrations are unexpected because the fast-moving, east-west winds in Titan’s middle atmosphere should thoroughly mix the molecules formed there. The researchers do not have an obvious explanation for these findings yet.

I would not take these results too seriously, as the data are very sketchy. With better data many of these questions will vanish, replaced by new questions that are better based on reality.

The lingering echo of Comet Shoemaker-Levy in the atmosphere of Jupiter.

The lingering echo of Comet Shoemaker-Levy in the atmosphere of Jupiter.

The Herschel observations, together with heat maps provided by NASA’s Infrared Telescope Facility on Mauna Kea, showed the researchers that the Jovian stratosphere was 20° to 30°F (10° to 15°C) warmer than it would be if completely dry. One question is whether the stratospheric warming results from the gentle, continuous infall of interplanetary dust particles, which would be warmed by sunlight as they linger high up. Cavalié and his colleagues believe IDPs create some of the infrared emission but cannot explain it all. Further, a continuously supplied source would migrate to lower depths, yet most of the emission is too high up, at pressures less than 2 millibars. And while the amount of water is roughly constant across the southern hemisphere, the emission gradually weakens northward until it’s less than half as strong. It’s not simply that Jupiter’s bottom half is hotter — there’s just more water down there. As the researchers note, “At least 95% of the observed water comes from the SL9 comet and subsequent (photo)-chemistry in Jupiter’s stratosphere according to our models, as of today.

Taken together, they conclude, these observations offer “clear evidence that a recent comet … is the principal source of water in Jupiter. What we observe today is a remnant of the oxygen delivery by the comet at 44°S in July 1994.”

The link between sunspots and climate

In a preprint paper published today on the Los Alamos astro-ph website and accepted for publication in the Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics, Norwegian scientists have found a strong correlation between the length of the solar sunspot cycle and the Earth’s temperature during the following cycle. From the abstract:

Relations between the length of a sunspot cycle and the average temperature in the same and the next cycle are calculated for a number of meteorological stations in Norway and in the North Atlantic region. No significant trend is found between the length of a cycle and the average temperature in the same cycle, but a significant negative trend is found between the length of a cycle and the temperature in the next cycle. This provides a tool to predict an average temperature decrease of at least 1.0 ◦ C from solar cycle 23 to 24 for the stations and areas analyzed. We find for the Norwegian local stations investigated that 25–56% of the temperature increase the last 150 years may be attributed to the Sun. For 3 North Atlantic stations we get 63–72% solar contribution. [emphasis mine]

You can download a copy of the paper here [pdf].

Their paper finds that if a particular sunspot cycle is longer with less activity, the climate will show significant cooling during the next cycle.

The paper makes several important points:
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Scientists have found that the structure of Titan’s atmosphere appears to change daily and seasonally, much like the Earth’s.

Scientists have found that the structure of Titan’s atmosphere appears to change daily and seasonally, much like the Earth’s.

“The most interesting point is that their model shows the presence of two different boundaries, the lower one caused by the daily heating and cooling of the surface – and varying in height during the day – and the higher one caused by the seasonal change in global air circulation,” commented Paulo Penteado from the Institute of Astronomy, Geophysics and Atmospheric Science at the University of São Paulo in Brazil. According to [Benjamin Charnay from the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) in Paris], this link between the lower atmosphere’s layers and the moon’s daily and seasonal cycle has never been seen on another moon or planet besides the Earth.

One caveat: the results are based upon a computer climate model. Though this model was tweaked based on actual data, that data remains slim and incomplete.

Mars atmosphere has more water vapor than predicted

Data from Mars Express has found that the Martian upper atmosphere has far more water vapor than predicted.

“The vertical distribution of water vapour is a key factor in the study of Mars’ hydrological cycle, and the old paradigm that it is mainly controlled by saturation physics now needs to be revised,” said Luca Maltagliati [of the Laboratoire Atmosphères, Milieux, Observations Spatiales (LATMOS) in Guyancourt, France]. “Our finding has major implications for understanding the planet’s global climate and the transport of water from one hemisphere to the other.”

“The data suggest that much more water vapour is being carried high enough in the atmosphere to be affected by photodissociation,” added Franck Montmessin, also from LATMOS, who is the Principal Investigator for SPICAM and a co-author of the paper. “Solar radiation can split the water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen atoms, which can then escape into space. This has implications for the rate at which water has been lost from the planet and for the long-term evolution of the Martian surface and atmosphere.”

Ethane lakes in a red haze: Titan’s uncanny moonscape

Titan’s ethane lakes in a red haze.

So far, there are no recognisable signs of organic life. That’s not surprising: by terrestrial standards, Titan is a deep freeze with surface temperatures at a chilly -180°C. Yet Titan is very much alive in the sense that its atmosphere and surface are changing before our eyes. Clouds drift through the haze and rain falls from them to erode stream-like channels draining into shallow lakes. Vast dune fields that look as if they were lifted from the Sahara sprawl along Titan’s equator, yet the dark grains resemble ground asphalt rather than sand. It is a bizarrely different world that looks eerily like home. Or as planetary scientist Ralph Lorenz puts it: “our prototype weird-world exoplanet”.

Atmosphere Above Japan Heated Rapidly Before M9 Earthquake

New satellite data shows that the atmosphere above Japan heated rapidly in the days before the March earthquake.

The [researchers] say that before the M9 earthquake, the total electron content of the ionosphere increased dramatically over the epicentre, reaching a maximum three days before the quake struck. At the same time, satellite observations showed a big increase in infrared emissions from above the epicentre, which peaked in the hours before the quake. In other words, the atmosphere was heating up.