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DUST DEVIL ON MARS

Posted in Blog Archive

Posted by abeodbart March 19, 2012 at 1:04 pm

NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

You thought we were the only planet to have wind and dirt? No way. With the HiRISE camera, short for the High Resolution Imaging Experiment that is fitted in a satellite that orbits the red planet, NASA scientists have snapped a pretty amazing snapshot off of the surface of Mars. What you can see in the picture above — bigger version on this link or by clicking the picture — is a whirling column of Mars-dust 800 meters (or half a mile) long, casting a shadow on the surface. It’s not Martians inventing fire or sending smoke signals, if that’s what you’re thinking, Mars is an arid wasteland with only the theoretical possibility of microscopic life underneath it’s frozen soil.

Mars is the fourth furthest planet out from the sun and hovers on the outer reaches of what we call the Goldilocks, or Habitable Zone around our star, which ought be the most optimal region of orbit for life as we know it. However, the planet is only about half the diameter of Earth and therefore has a measly 10% of the mass that we have, causing the planet to have but a third of the gravity we are used to, which makes maintaining an atmosphere of any kind pretty difficult, as atmospheric gasses simply slowly leak into space. Not to mention the fact that the planet is close to dead in a geological sense, which means it’s inner core is not producing a very strong magnetic field, which we do have on Earth and blocks harmful solar x-rays. Meaning that any Earth-creature living on Mars would slowly be killed by radiation.

That’s not all. Since that thin atmosphere on Mars is in fact 95% carbon dioxide, yet not thick enough to warm it to much above- 60 °C, you can imagine the planet is not very habitable to us regardless or it’s permanent fatal shower of solar radiation. However, it is very amenable to robotic research and may still show evidence of microbial life from an earlier era when the planet was much warmer. That’s the reason there are currently so many robots driving around or orbiting the planet, sending these stunning pictures back.

What we learn about other planets always teaches us something about earth and ourselves. For example, research conducted by the new Mars Science Laboratory rover, now well into it’s fourth month of travel with five more to go, could tell us if the inception of life is a rare event, or if it happens everywhere when the conditions are right, even for a geological instant. Finding life could even imply we are all Martians, since microbes could theoretically hitch a ride from Mars to Earth on rocks hurled our way from cataclysmic asteroid-impacts or volcanic eruptions, which were very common on Mars in the distant past.

So, look at that picture for a moment and reflect on the vastness and beauty of our amazing universe. And when you see some dust whirling around you can stop and think; “…there are also dust devils on Mars”.

COMMENTS
March 19, 2012 at 2:00 pm
JP ONeill says:

Great to see weather on another planets so dynamically illustrated. Perhaps one day we will be looking at images like that from worlds beyond our own sun.
It was great to point out that Mars is incapable of maintaining an thicker atmosphere due to its low mass and weak gravity. I have no doubt, that one day man will walk and work on Mars, but it is just not a candidate for ‘Terraforming’, although it is often touted as such. Which is a shame really. lol
Its said Mars ws once Earth-like in its youth – imagine what fossils lie buried beneath its soil…


March 19, 2012 at 3:39 pm
bob says:

hi


March 19, 2012 at 4:38 pm
alan says:

DUST DEVIL ON MARS
Looks suspiciously like exhaust for a Marsbilly Moonshine still to me. They pull them around on sledges, in case the revenue men should close in you know.


March 19, 2012 at 8:08 pm
Simon says:

You know what they say? Well I don’t (minds in warp mode) Just glad to see someones working. Keep up the good work.


March 19, 2012 at 9:17 pm
Higgs boson says:

I love Mars and the Tasmanian Devil (aka Taz) and the thought that a mental cartoon character whizzes about on the surface of a toffee and caramel chocolate bar really excites me.

The planet Mars is also pretty amazing.


March 20, 2012 at 2:45 am

That’s a very low sun on that picture…


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