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SOLAR activity may be the cause of seasonal dust storms on Mars, according to new research.
Powerful dust storms overtake Mars’ surface once every three to four Martian years – about five and a half to seven and a half Earth years.
For years, the occurrence has baffled scientists who are not sure where the Martian dust comes from, or how it spreads.
Although now a team of researchers from the University of Houston thinks they may have some answers.
A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences posits that Mars’ dust storms come from seasonal energy imbalances.
The energy imbalances are rooted in the amount of solar energy absorbed and released by the planet.
Particularly, they found that energy excess — more energy being absorbed than produced — could be one of the factors generating dust storms on Mars, Ellen Creecy, the lead author of the study said.
“Our results showing strong energy imbalances suggest that current numerical models should be revisited, as these typically assume that Mars’ radiant energy is balanced between Mars’ seasons,” said Dr. Germán Martínez, USRA Staff Scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI) and co-author of the paper.
The team gathered their data from multiple missions, including the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS), the Curiosity rover, and the InSight lander.
Upon assessing their findings, the team discovered strong seasonal and daily variations in the amount of solar energy radiated by Mars.
Specifically, the energy imbalance was around ~15.3 percent between Mars’ seasons – on Earth it’s about 0.4 percent.
The study also revealed that during a powerful dust storm in 2001, the amount of power emitted decreased by 22 percent in the daytime but increased by 29 percent during nighttime.
These findings could help researchers gain a better understanding of the red planet’s climate and atmosphere.
Furthermore, comprehension of these storms could help future missions to Mars operate better and safer.
“Our results highlight the connection between dust storms and energy imbalances, and thus can provide new insights into the generation of dust storms on Mars,” Dr. Martínez reiterated.
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