It would be nice one day to stand under a cloud on Mars with a loved one and ask romantically what it’s like for them, only to see their eyes bulge out like Schwarzenegger’s. total recall Because they forgot their helmet.
But astronomers have been doing this very thing (from a distance, obviously), and noticing what the clouds actually look like: Earth’s clouds. Not a dinosaur or anything.
Despite the drastically different atmospheres and somewhat difficult breathing on Mars, both planets appear to have fairly similar cloud formations. A study by the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Mars Express spacecraft and NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter examined dust storms on Mars, and found that clouds form in similar ways to clouds in Earth’s tropics.
“When thinking of a Mars-like atmosphere on Earth, one might easily think of a dry desert or a polar region,” Colin Wilson, ESA’s Mars Express project scientist, said in a statement.
“It is quite unexpected, then, that by tracing the chaotic movement of dust storms, parallels can be drawn with processes occurring in the hot, humid tropics that are not quite Mars-like.”
In case you are planning a trip, the two planets are very different. Mars is cold, dry and composed mostly of carbon dioxide, while here on Earth we are lucky to have nitrogen and oxygen. And atmospheric densities (if you care about that sort of thing when traveling), they’re not quite the same, with Mars recorded in less than one-fifth of Earth’s atmosphere. This is equivalent to 35 kilometers above the Earth’s surface, according to the European Space Agency.
So the scientists were a little surprised by the similarities between the two clouds. Using orbiting cameras aboard NASA’s Mars Express and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, they observed dust storms that occurred near Mars’ north pole. The spirals are visible and their origin is similar to extratropical cyclones on Earth. There are also similar cloud cells arranged like grains or pebbles.
One could imagine an astronomer looking at the images and joking, “Do you know what the Martian clouds look like? Rain!” And get absolute silence.
In any case, these results are about more than just noticing that the clouds look the same. Understanding how these dust storms form on Mars will aid future solar-powered missions to the Red Planet, where the storms can block light from solar cells.
This will make it easier for people to stand one day under the clouds and wonder what they look like. For now, we’ll just have to leave this experiment to the wandering couples.