NASA scientists wish to solve an important mystery about Mars’ atmosphere. They’ve organized a program named Cloudspotting on Mars that invites people to observe Martian clouds utilizing the citizen science platform Zooniverse. The data may help researchers comprehend why the planet’s atmosphere is only 1% as dense as Earth’s, even though sufficient evidence indicates that the planet used to have a much thicker atmosphere.
The air pressure is so low that liquid water evaporates from its surface into the atmosphere. However, billions of years before, lakes and rivers surrounded Mars, implying that the atmosphere must have been thicker.
So how did it happen? One hypothesis implies that several mechanisms could be lofting water high into the atmosphere, where solar radiation bursts those water molecules apart into hydrogen and oxygen. Hydrogen is sufficiently light to fly off into space.
Similar to Earth, Mars possesses clouds made of water ice. However, unlike Earth, it also has clouds built out of carbon dioxide, created when it gets sufficiently cold for the Martian atmosphere to cool down locally. By knowing where and how these clouds occur, scientists wish to properly comprehend the configuration of Mars’ middle atmosphere, which is approximately 30 to 50 miles in altitude.
“We want to learn what triggers the formation of clouds—especially water ice clouds, which could teach us how high water vapor gets in the atmosphere—and during which seasons,” announced Marek Slipski, a postdoctoral researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.