Fogs, plumes, and other types of clouds on the Red Planet are getting the crowdsourcing treatment.
You can help NASA scientists make a cloud discovery Mars Free using the Zooniverse platform. Subscribe to the project Here in the Zoneverse (Opens in a new tab). The project, called Cloudspotting on Mars, will invite people to look through 16 years of images collected by NASA. Mars reconnaissance vehicle (MRO), which has been operating on the Red Planet since 2006.
Officials at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California wrote: “The information may help researchers understand why the planet’s atmosphere is only 1% as dense as Earth’s, even though there is ample evidence to suggest that the planet had an atmosphere. Joey is much thicker.” a statement (Opens in a new tab) Released Tuesday (28 June).
In the MRO infrared images, captured by the Mars Climate Sounder instrument, clouds appear as arcs. But until now, scientists have had to sift through the images themselves for these features.
“The team needs help sifting through that Zooniverse data, and marking the arcs so that scientists can study where they are in the atmosphere more efficiently,” JPL officials wrote.
While Earth and Mars share some cloud similarities (the two worlds have clouds rich in water ice), the Red Planet also has clouds made up of carbon dioxide or dry ice. Examining clouds of all kinds will help scientists sort out the structure of the medium Mars atmospherewhich lies approximately 30 to 50 miles (50 to 80 km) above the planet.
“We want to learn what triggers cloud formation — particularly icy water clouds, which can tell us how high atmospheric water vapor is — and during which seasons,” Marek Slepsky, a postdoctoral researcher at JPL, said in the statement.
The project could also feed into long-term climate studies to better understand why Mars has lost its atmospherewhich may be due to atmospheric erosion over the eons.
JPL officials wrote: “One theory is that various mechanisms could be lifting the water up into the atmosphere, as solar radiation breaks these water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen.”
The hydrogen produced is so light that solar radiation can easily push it into space. In addition to the MRO’s work, another NASA mission called Muffin (Martian Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution) also analyze the phenomenon.
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