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Be A Part Of The ‘Cloudspotting on Mars’ Project To Help NASA Scientists Find Martian Clouds

by Coffee Table Science
NASA scientists are on their way to solving the mystery of Mars’ atmosphere. They have organized a project called Cloudspotting on Mars through which citizens can help them detect clouds on Mars using Zooniverse, a citizen science platform. The information may enable scientists to find why Mars’ atmosphere is one percent as dense as Earth’s, though, some facts indicate that the Red Planet used to have a much thicker atmosphere.
Image Credits: Pixabay
The air pressure on the planet is so low that the liquid water vaporises from the surface into the atmosphere. However, there has been evidence of the presence of a thick atmosphere on Mars due to the presence of rivers and lakes.

But what is the reason behind the changes in Mars’ atmosphere? According to a theory, various procedures could be lofting water high in the atmosphere, where solar radiation breaks water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen atoms. Hydrogen is light in weight that it could then flow into space.

Like Earth, Mars also has clouds. Some clouds are made from water ice and some from carbon dioxide (dry ice). These carbon dioxide clouds are formed when the Martian atmosphere starts to freeze. Scientists, with the help of these clouds, are trying to understand the arrangement of the Martian middle atmosphere, which is about 50 to 80 kilometres (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 vapour gets in the atmosphere – and during which seasons,” said Marek Slipski, a Postdoctoral Researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.

That’s why Cloudspotting on Mars comes into action. The project uses data from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), which has been exploring Mars since 2006. The instrument called Mars Climate Sounder analyses the atmosphere in infrared light. In the data collected by the instrument, the clouds appear as arches. The research team needs the help of the citizens on Zooniverse in marking the arches so that they can find the reason behind the occurrence of the clouds.

“We now have over 16 years of data for us to search through, which is very valuable – it lets us see how temperatures and clouds change over different seasons and from year to year,” said Armin Kleinboehl, Mars Climate Sounder’s Deputy Principal Investigator at JPL. “But it’s a lot of data for a small team to look through.”

According to scientists, humans can easily detect arches by eye in the Mars Climate Sounder Data than the algorithms used by them. However, Kleinboehl said the Cloudspotting project might help improve the algorithms that could discover arches in the future. Also, the project includes various webinars where scientists will discuss with participants how the data can be used.

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