July 17, 2024

Mars: Astronomers wonder where the water comes from – ice layers discovered in Martian volcanoes

Mars: Astronomers wonder where the water comes from – ice layers discovered in Martian volcanoes

Sciences Frost in space

Discovering layers of ice on Mars volcanoes

Martian volcano with a layer of ice

For the first time, water frost has been discovered near the equator of Mars

Source: ESA/DZA/FO Berlin (A. Valentinas)

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Astronomers are puzzling over the source of the water: A thin layer of ice forms on Mars’ massive volcanoes in the morning. By the afternoon it had already melted. Until now, it was thought that it was impossible for frost to form there at the equator.

aOn Mars near the equator, astronomers have discovered thin layers of water ice. Similar to frost, ice covers the ground in volcanic craters shortly after sunrise in cold seasons – and the layer disappears again in the afternoon. Scientists suspect that the frozen water comes from Mars’ thin atmosphere. However, a volcanic origin cannot be completely ruled out, the international research team led by Adomas Valentinas from the University of Bern wrote in the specialized journal.Natural earth sciences“.

Frost on top of Olympus Mons, the tallest volcano in the entire solar system

Frost on top of Olympus Mons, the tallest volcano in the entire solar system

Source: ESA/TGO/CaSSIS

Olympus Mons is about 600 kilometers in diameter

Olympus Mons is about 600 kilometers in diameter

Source: European Space Agency/Deutsche Aerospace Center/FO Berlin

“We thought it was impossible for frost to form at the Martian equator because the combination of sunlight and the thin atmosphere keeps temperatures relatively high, whether on the surface or on mountaintops,” Valentinas said in a statement issued by the European Space Agency, quoted by the European Space Agency. . This is different than on Earth, where temperatures drop significantly towards mountain peaks and higher mountains are covered in snow for longer periods of time.

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Valentinas discovered the frost in images taken by the European Space Agency’s Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) research satellite. Images taken by the Mars Express spacecraft later confirmed the formation of ice in the summit craters of four volcanoes.

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The volcanoes include the largest known volcano in the solar system, the 21-kilometre-high Olympus Mons. It is located in the Tharsis region, where other volcanoes are located: Arsia Mons, Askraios Mons, and Seronios Tholos. Arsia Mons is located slightly south of the equator, and the other volcanoes are located slightly north. As on Earth, the areas around the equator are the warmest on average on the planet. Because Mars is much farther from the Sun than Earth, the maximum temperature on the Red Planet is about 20 degrees Celsius.

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The special topography of volcanoes

A layer of ice covers large areas of the volcano’s craters. The study’s authors explain their formation by the special topography of volcanoes: “Winds pull down mountain slopes and carry relatively humid air from the surface to higher altitudes, where it condenses and settles as frost,” explains co-author Nicola Thomas from Harvard University. University of Bern.

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Astronomers also investigated whether the ice could be carbon dioxide (CO₂). On the one hand, there are large amounts of carbon dioxide ice (dry ice) on Mars, especially at the poles. On the other hand, the Martian atmosphere consists of more than 95 percent carbon dioxide. But the surface temperatures measured during the ice observations were above the freezing point of carbon dioxide. Computer simulations also showed that it was likely water ice.

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However, the ice layer is very thin: different estimation methods resulted in an average value of 0.01 mm. But due to the size of the area covered, about 150,000 tons of water could cover the four volcanic craters in the early morning. Researchers suspect that the water comes from the atmosphere. In addition to carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide, dormant volcanoes can also release water vapor, but scientists have found no evidence of this.

“Finding water on Mars is always exciting, both for its scientific interest and because of its implications for human and robotic exploration,” says Colin Wilson, ESA’s project scientist for the used Mars rover.

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