Thanks to the Mars Express probe, they reveal the secrets of many Martians


Nimbus of dust on Mars captured by the Mars Express commission.

The “web camera” on the side of the European probe Mars Express has allowed a team from the University of the Basque Country (UPV / EHU) in Spain to study a large mound on a Martian volcano, reports the European Space Agency ( ESA).

When spring arrives in the south of this planet, a mound of water ice appears near the 20 kilometer-high Arsia Mons volcano, rapidly stretching for hundreds of kilometers before disappearing within hours.

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A study by a team from the University of the Basque Country in Bilbao (Boreal Spain) has revealed the mysteries of this cluster thanks to 63 observations made with the Mars Express “webcam” and other instruments.

The heap is difficult to see in its entirety due to the rapid changes in the Martian environment and the orbital limitations of many spacecraft.

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To overcome these hurdles, the team used Mars Express’ Visual Tracking Camera (VMC), a device called a “Mars webcam,” which has a similar resolution to a typical 2003 webcam.

This camera was deactivated after the 2003 commission, but years later it was reactivated and began to be used by scientists.

“Although it has poor spatial resolution, it has a wide field of view, which is essential for better perspective at different times of the day, and it is excellent for tracking the development of hexahedral aberration over a long period of time at a small scale ‘distances’. This allowed us to look at the whole heap in many life cycles,” says Jorge Hernández Bernal, Projects Manager at UPV/EHU.

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The Spanish research team combined observations from the webcam with those from two other Mars Express instruments, OMEGA and HRSC, and other spacecraft.

“We were especially excited to dive into the sightings made by Viking 2 in the 1970s,” said Jorge Hernández. “We saw that part of this fascinating Mound of Hercules had been captured at the time and we are now exploring it in detail.”

There is no other climate system in the solar system as similar to Earth’s as that of Mars, and yet the two planets have striking differences.

“Although orographic clouds are commonly observed on Earth, they do not reach this enormous width and do not offer such changing dynamics,” explained another researcher.

“Understanding this mound gives us a great opportunity to try to replicate its formation with models, models that will improve our understanding of climate systems on Mars and on Earth,” he said.

The research paper “An Extremely Elongated Cloud over Arsia Mons Volcano on Mars: I. Life Cycle” by J. Hernández-Bernal was published in the Journal of Geophysical Research.


Original Spanish content

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