Astronomy

What are the cloud-like blobs in the Martian southern hemisphere?

What are the cloud-like blobs in the Martian southern hemisphere?


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In a very recent edition of New Scientist, an article Mystery cloud-like blobs over Mars baffle astronomers (16 Feb, 2015), detailed that

on 12 March 2012, amateur astronomers around the world noticed a strange blob rising out of the planet's southern hemisphere, soaring to 250 kilometres above the surface.

According to the article, this anomaly grew to be about 1000km across and even had 'fingers' stretching to space.

The article, details several theories (some being a bit wild) including atmospheric processes, aurora and stretching reality quite a bit - aliens (from the article, not me).

An image of the plume is shown below (a still image from this YouTube clip, which states that a 2nd plume was observed some months later:

The plumes appear to have formed in a region called Terra Cimmeria.

What are scientific theories, models etc for the formation of the cloud-like blobs in the Martian southern hemisphere?


From the Nature article, the authors propose two alternative explanations:

We used photometric measurements to explore two possible scenarios and investigate their nature.

  • For particles reflecting solar radiation, clouds of CO2-ice or H2O-ice particles with an effective radius of 0.1 micrometres are favoured over dust.

  • Alternatively, the plume could arise from auroral emission, of a brightness more than 1,000 times that of the Earth's aurora, over a region with a strong magnetic anomaly where aurorae have previously been detected

Importantly, both explanations defy our current understanding of Mars' upper atmosphere.

I think, they are the most trustworthy interpretations that one can get. Please note that, even if the data are from 2012, the paper is published in 2015, therefore the interpretation is not outdated.


What are the cloud-like blobs in the Martian southern hemisphere? - Astronomy

Cyclonic Disturbances
Along the edge of the polar cap, cyclonic disturbances are common during the late summer and fall. This storm system is located at the edge of the northern polar cap. In the foreground, frost can be seen as bright areas. (Courtesy Calvin J. Hamilton)

Lee Wave
This is a good example of a lee wave associated with an impact crater. Note the wave periodicity in the clouds. (Courtesy Calvin J. Hamilton)

Wave Clouds
Wave clouds usually occur at the lee of a large obstacle. They are often found at the edge of the polar cap, and in the Tharsis and Lunae Planum regions. (Courtesy Calvin J. Hamilton)

Cloud Streets
The cloud patterns illustrated by this image exhibits a double periodicity. These types of clouds usually occur close to the northern-polar cap and in the Tharsis and Syria Planum regions. (Courtesy Calvin J. Hamilton)

Streaky Clouds
Streaky clouds seem to be found most everywhere however, they seem to be more concentrated in the highlands southwest of Syrtis Major. (Courtesy Calvin J. Hamilton)

Fog
Fog often appears in low-lying areas. It typically occurs in the southern hemisphere especially in the Argyre and Hellas basins. It forms frequently in craters. Occasionally, it occurs in higher regions such as Sinus Sabaeus and Solis Planum. (Courtesy Calvin J. Hamilton)

Clouds in Noctis Labyrinthis
This image shows early morning fog in the Noctis Labyrinthis, at the westernmost end of Valles Marineris. This fog, which is probably composed of water ice, is confined primarily to the low-lying troughs, but occasionally extends over the adjacent plateau. The region shown is about 300 kilometers (186 miles) across. (Courtesy NASA/LPI)

Dust Plume
This is an example of a dust plume in the Solis Planum region. This image was taken during the springtime for this region. Plumes are found primarily in the southern hemisphere, in highlands such as Syrtis Major and in elevated regions such as Tharsis. (Courtesy Calvin J. Hamilton)

French, Richard et al. "Global Patterns in Cloud Forms on Mars." ICARUS 45 , 1981, 32-43.

Carr M. H. The Surface of Mars . Yale University Press, New Haven, 1981. (See Chapter 3, pp. 25-34.)

Kiefer, Walter S., Allan H. Treiman, and Stephen M. Clifford. The Red Planet: A Survey of Mars - Slide Set . Lunar and Planetary Institute.

Views of the Solar System Copyright © 1997-2009 by Calvin J. Hamilton. All rights reserved. Privacy Statement.


Towards the end of the Martian apparition

As we start to approach the end of the Mars apparition, I thought it would probably be best to post the final series observations in a single thread. In fact Mars is still well placed from my observatory at the moment, so hopefully I can continue to follow it for a while yet. Over the past week we have had some excellent seeing conditions, and I have made two more Mars observations.

14th April: the main point of interest here is what looks like a bright white cloud over Olympus Mons. Due to the increasingly northerly tilt of Mars, the Mare Sirenum and Mare Cimmerium are now located towards the top of the disk:

15th April: Similar views as on the previous day, seeing perhaps not quite as good but I could still use powers of x600 to see the fine details on the disk. The Elysium region can be seen on the morning terminator- it is slightly brighter suggesting the presence of morning clouds over this large plain:


Star Charts

Check our website each month to download free star charts for night sky exploring. These simple star charts will help beginners recognise the major landmarks of the night sky and follow the motions of the bright planets. Click the month to download the pair of star charts – one looking east, the other west.

How to use the star charts

The star charts show two views of the night sky for each month. One view shows the western sky and the other shows the eastern sky. A small piece of the northern and southern sky is not shown so that we can show you a better scale for the charts.

To match the chart to the western sky, hold the western chart with the ‘WEST’ label aligned with west on your horizon. Be aware that hills, trees and buildings may well block your view of objects nearer the horizon. Also, because of city lights and the absorbing effect of Earth’s atmosphere, objects nearer the horizon will generally appear fainter and redder – an effect we are all familiar with when watching the setting of the Sun or Moon.

Each chart will match the sky at the times given in the table on each page.

Locating the ‘OVERHEAD’ marker for each chart will help with orienting your view of the sky. The other key marker is labelled ‘SCP’ – the South Celestial Pole. The whole sky seems to rotate around this point so objects close to the SCP will never set – they are called ‘circumpolar’. The elevation of the SCP above your horizon measures your latitude. These charts are done for the latitude of Auckland (37° south). From Invercargill, the SCP will appear nearly 10° higher in the south so more of the southern sky will be circumpolar from there. The Southern Cross never sets anywhere in Aotearoa so is perpetually in our skies, even though in the very north of the country it nearly touches the southern horizon.

The thin yellow line stretching across the charts is called the ‘ecliptic’. This marks the annual path of the Sun over the year and it is also the plane of the Solar System. The planets are always found along the ecliptic and are marked on the charts. By checking all the charts you can follow the motions of the planets against the stars over the year.

The size of the stars on the charts indicates the approximate brightness of each star. However, this is not true for the planets. For example, the planets Uranus and Neptune are shown even though they are too faint to see without binoculars or a telescope.

Because the planets move against the stars over the course of the year, the positions shown for them is only exactly right for the ‘mid-month’ date. For Saturn and Jupiter that move only slowly, their positions are quite good. However, Mercury, Venus and Mars move quite quickly relative to the stars, so their positions on the charts can be somewhat different. The planet positions shown are correct for the mid-month time for each month respectively. For example, on the ‘JANUARY – WEST’ chart, the positions of the planets are calculated for mid-January at 10pm.

The size of the stars on the charts indicates the approximated brightness of each star. However, this is not true for the planets. For example, the planets Uranus and Neptune are shown even though they are too faint to see without binoculars or a telescope.

Only the most prominent constellations are shown to avoid unnecessary clutter.

SKY SPOTTER – June 2021

Just before dawn, from around mid-June, Matariki begins to peak over the north-eastern horizon along with Orion’s belt in the east.

Meanwhile, just after sunset, bright Venus edges up from the north-western horizon as the evenings pass. A crescent Moon slips by on the 12th and is to the right of little Mars on the 14th.

Just south of west, Canis Major with brilliant Sirius sets around 8pm. To the right, higher in the northwest, bright Regulus sits at the top of a sickle pattern of stars – the head of Leo (the Lion). Further right, just east of north, is orange Arcturus, brightest star of Bootes (the Herdsman). Above and to its left, roughly twice as high, is white Spica of Virgo (the Maiden). Below and right of Arcturus, a faint semicircle of stars named Corona Borealis (the Northern Crown) is rising.

Scorpius is partway up the eastern sky with orange Antares at its centre. Below its tail (Maui’s fishhook) Sagittarius (the Archer) resembles a teapot tipped onto its handle. To the teapot’s right, faint Corona Australis (the Southern Crown) shimmers like a necklace.

Crux (the Southern Cross) is high in the south. The Diamond and False Crosses lie below right, whilst above left, the globular cluster Omega Centauri is a fuzzy spot. Canopus of Carina (the Keel) is bright in the southwest and Achernar of Eridanus (the River) twinkles on the southern horizon.

Saturn and Jupiter begin the month rising in the east about 10pm and 11:30pm respectively. Night by night they rise earlier and are brighter than all the surrounding stars. The Moon slips by on the 1st, 27th and 28th.

SKY GUIDE WINTER

JUNE 2020 I JULY 2021 I AUG 2021

It’s getting colder but these long winter nights should be cherished, as they provide brilliant stargazing and planet viewing opportunities. The zodiac constellations of winter are Libra, Scorpius, Sagittarius and Capricornus. The first three are particularly distinctive and won’t be forgotten once identified.

During winter, the Sun is low in our daytime sky. This means that planets opposite the Sun in our night sky will be high above the horizon by the middle of the night. Therefore, the winter months provide the best opportunities to view the planets through a telescope. The solid blue line marked on the star charts is called the ‘ecliptic’, the plane of our Solar System along which the Sun and the planets are found.

You will also notice that the ecliptic crosses the plane of the Milky Way near the constellations of Scorpius and Sagittarius. During mid-winter the Ecliptic passes nearly overhead around midnight so any planets near these constellations are ideally placed for viewing through a telescope. Later in winter the bright planets, Saturn and Jupiter, will be together in faint Capricornus, significantly changing the look of that constellation.

In the northern sky during early winter, the orange star, Arcturus, is the main feature. It is the fourth brightest star in the night sky and the brightest in the constellation Bootes. By late winter Arcturus is setting earlier and has been replaced by the two bright stars Vega in Lyra and Altair in Aquila as the most prominent northern starry landmarks. In the far south of the country these northern stars don’t rise very high but are familiar to those in the north.

Looking south in early winter, the spectacular constellations of Crux, Centaurus and Carina are high up and the further south you are the better the view. These regions are richly packed with stars and many star clusters that are well worth exploring with binoculars.

By early August, the Scorpius-Sagittarius region is the one to explore during the early evening. This is the brightest and densest part of the Milky Way and it is seen best from the latitude of Aotearoa. When not competing with the light pollution of towns and cities (or the Moon), the light from billions and billions of stars combine to make ‘star clouds’ that can be seen with the naked eye. When looking at Sagittarius you are looking straight towards the heart of our galaxy with its super-massive black hole at the centre.

The Southern Hemisphere winter solstice marks the time when the Sun reaches its northern most point in our sky — and therefore it is lowest in the sky at noon. In 2021 the solstice falls on 21 June (at 3:32pm) and signals the shortest day of the year. After that date, the Sun begins moving south again, extending our daylight and shortening the nights.

MATARIKI AND THE MĀORI NEW YEAR

Māori named the beautiful cluster of stars in Taurus, Matariki. It is known to Europeans as the Pleiades or the Seven Sisters but many other cultures have their own names for it as well. Rather less poetically astronomers usually call it M45. The number of stars perceived with the naked eye depends on individual’s visual acuity although there is evidence that Māori of past generations recognised nine. Many more can be seen with binoculars.

The Māori calendar is regulated by the cycle of the Moon. However, because the lunar calendar gets steadily out of alignment with the seasons, it is realigned periodically with the sighting of either Matariki or Puanga (Rigel) in the dawn sky in late June. The lunar phase at the time of sighting determines the timing of the Matariki celebrations and restarts the lunar calendar with the following new moon.

Beyond the practical need to maintain a calendar, Matariki is a celebratory period that is very important in Māori culture. Traditionally, it was believed the brighter the stars were, the warmer the coming season would be for growing crops.

Mercury is low in the northeast from late June to late July before dawn. A crescent Moon is close-by on 08 July. Traversing behind the Sun it will return to the western sky later in August and might be seen next to much fainter Mars on 19 August. Rising higher it should be easily spotted below brilliant Venus near the end of August.

Venus is at home in the west as it climbs away from the setting Sun’s glare from early June. A crescent Moon brushes by on 12 June. Venus will overwhelm the faint Beehive star cluster on 03 July and will be very close to Mars around mid-July. Surpassed only by the Moon in brilliance, it will dominate this part of the early evening sky until December.

Faint Mars keeps station low in the northwest for most of the winter. It will be approximately to the left of a crescent Moon on 14 June and will hover very close to much brighter Venus during mid-July. On 12 July, the pair will sit above and to the left of a crescent Moon. Growing fainter, just north of west, it will become very hard to see from mid-August. Mercury, close-by on 19 August, will be an easier target.

Jupiter rises with a third quarter Moon on 01 June just before midnight. By the end of the season the king of the planets will be visible from dusk till dawn. It will reach opposition on 20 August and so will be well placed for telescope viewing in late August in the late evenings. With its cloud bands and four Galilean moons it is a spectacular sight.

Saturn rises about an hour and a half before Jupiter and reaches opposition on 02 August. Therefore, as with Jupiter, the best opportunities for evening telescope viewing begin in late winter. With its rings tilted towards us Saturn offers us one of the most memorable views in the night sky.


Bizarre Martian Plumes Discovered by Amateur Astronomers

Amateur astronomers have spotted two clouds rising from the Martian surface, and nobody knows how they can exist.

An international network of amateur astronomers has spotted what looks like two plumes, or slender, cloudy projections, extending from the surface of Mars, and their professional counterparts have no clear idea of what they might be.

"Any explanation we can think of challenges our understanding of the upper atmosphere of Mars," says Agustín Sánchez-Lavega, a professional astronomer at the University of the Basque Country, in Bilbao, Spain, and lead author of a report on the phenomenon in the journal Nature.

"The fact that it was seen by multiple observers suggests pretty strongly that it's real," says Bruce Jakosky, of the University of Colorado, Boulder, principal investigator for the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN), which is currently orbiting the red planet. "But I find the observation puzzling." Jakosky was not involved in the research.

The plumes were first picked up in March and April 2012 by Wayne Jaeschke, a patent attorney based in West Chester, Pennsylvania, who moonlights, so to speak, as a member of the Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers (APOL). "I sent a couple of frames to some guys I know in Australia," he says, "and asked, 'Am I seeing things?'" The fuzzy patch of faint light, he reasoned, might have been some sort of flaw in his camera's sensor.

But Jaeschke's Australian counterparts saw the blurry spot too. "It looked like some strange kind of cloud," he says, and when they alerted still more amateurs in France, they were able to spot it as well. A message went out on the group's email list, which Sánchez-Lavega monitors.

Like many full-time astronomers, he knows that skilled amateurs often pick up celestial phenomena the pros might miss. Amateurs have been the first to see some supernovae and comets, for example, and in 2009, an Australian amateur named Anthony Wesley watched as a comet smacked into Jupiter.

Amateurs have even spotted a cloud rising from the edge of Mars once before, says Sánchez-Lavega. Spacecraft and large ground-based telescopes have seen it happen many times. The big difference here is altitude: All of those other clouds, which have been made of dust or ice particles, have never risen more than 60 miles (100 kilometers) above the surface.

The mystery clouds, however, reached more than twice as high, and persisted for ten days. "It's hard to see how particles would get up that high," says Jakosky. And even if they did, he says, "there are winds at these altitudes, and I would expect that they would redistribute or dissipate a cloud relatively quickly."

Sánchez-Lavega and his co-authors (who include Jaeschke and three other amateurs, along with several professionals) agree, admitting in Nature that the dust hypothesis is "difficult to support." Another explanation the authors suggest is that the amateur astronomers had photographed an aurora, something like the northern lights on Earth. But they acknowledge that such a thing would have to be improbably bright to be seen from Earth. The plumes, of course, are long gone, so there's no way to study them in search of an explanation.

The astronomers' only hope is that the phenomenon will happen again. "We just have to keep watching [the planet's edge] with telescopes on Earth and with spacecraft," says Sánchez-Lavega. "And because they're so numerous, so widely spread around Earth, and so dedicated," he says, "amateurs will continue to play a fundamental role."

So will the MAVEN satellite, which arrived at the red planet last September to study the Martian atmosphere up close. "We would see something like this if we were looking in the right direction at the time that it happened," says Jakosky.

In fact, there's a slim chance that it already could have happened: MAVEN has been taking readings for five months, and all the information hasn't been analyzed yet. If a cloud erupted during that time in a location where the amateurs couldn't see it, and the satellite happened to get lucky, says Jarosky, "I can't rule out that we'll find something like this in our data."


The scudding clouds of Mars

Mars is the only other planet in the solar system apart from the Earth that combines a clear – albeit thin – atmosphere and a solid surface. Therefore, an astronaut standing on the surface may observe and record phenomena on the martian sky, both astronomical and atmospheric. One of these phenomena happens to be..clouds!

Martian clouds are much less ubiquitous on Mars than they are at the Earth but they do exist. There are two types of martian clouds, these can generally be distinguished by colour. Yellowish dust clouds are similar to sandstorm clouds on the Earth’s deserts, while bluish-white clouds are made of water ice crystals, similar to the familiar wispy cirrus clouds of Earth. Either can grow large enough to be visible to Earth-based telescopes.

Bluish-white water ice clouds and a yellowish dust cloud recorded by the Mars Color Imager (MARCI) camera aboard the NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) between the 5th and the 11th of March, 2018. Circular features in the image are extinct volcanoes. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems

Water ice clouds have now been documented by robotic rovers roaming the surface. They are most frequently seen at certain times of the (martian) day, for example in the early morning hours. They also tend to come and go with the seasons one example is the so-called Arsia Mons Elongated Cloud or AMEC for short, a 1000-mi long cloud formation that has been recorded by spacecraft since the 1970s. As its name suggests, the AMEC forms on the flanks of Arsia Mons, a 12-mi high extinct martian volcano, and always appears at the time of solstice in the southern hemisphere, the equivalent of the winter solstice on Earth. This phenomenon may be an example of an orographic cloud, formed as moisture-laden warm air is forced to flow upwards by the rising terrain, causing cooling and forming the ice crystals. Scientists still do not know for how long the AMEC has been disappearing and reappearing or, indeed, why it only forms in the early morning hours.

Image taken on 10 October 2018 by the Visual Monitoring Camera (VMC) on board ESA’s Mars Express showing the Arsia Mons Elongated Cloud extending 1500 km westward of the volcano. Image Credit: ESA/GCP/UPV/EHU Bilbao

Last seen in 2018, the AMEC was picked up again just a few weeks ago by a camera onboard the European Space Agency (ESA) Mars Express probe. Mars will be coming close to the Earth this Autumn (more about the upcoming Mars apparition in a future Astronote) and, if the AMEC persists until then, it will likely become visible to amateur and professional observers of the planet.


The mystery of this bizarre Mars cloud is beginning to unravel

Wednesday, March 10th 2021, 3:49 pm - The Arsia Mons Elongated Cloud is a strange recurring feature on Mars, and images from a satellite 'webcam' are revealing its secrets.

In recent years, images sent back from Mars have revealed a bizarre sight — an immense elongated cloud streaming away from one of the Red Planet's massive, extinct volcanoes. Scientists are now beginning to unravel the mysteries behind this strange weather pattern using The Mars Webcam, on board the ESA's Mars Express spacecraft.

Satellites in orbit around Mars have revealed some amazing details about the planet. However, by design, most confine themselves to a narrow view as they focus their high-resolution cameras at the surface. Studying some features of the planet, however, requires a broader perspective.

One such feature of note is the Arsia Mons Elongated Cloud.

This closeup of the Arsia Mons Elongated Cloud, taken by Mars Express' High Resolution Stereo Camera on September 21, 2018, shows it from a perspective of about 7,000 km above the surface. Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin/Justin Cowart, CC-by-2.0

The Arsia Mons Elongated Cloud, or AMEC, is an immense water-ice cloud that forms near Arsia Mons, a 20-km tall extinct volcano near Mars' equator. Spotted going back as far as the Viking missions in the mid-1970s, a new study using more recent observations has revealed the cloud's daily patterns and dynamics.

Forming daily over the span of a few months around each Martian winter solstice, the AMEC has been seen to stretch up to 1,800 kilometres long and from 150-250 kilometres wide. Although it may appear to be volcanic, it is actually an orographic cloud formed by warm, humid air flowing up a mountain's slopes.

Mars' atmosphere is extremely thin, and liquid water is virtually nonexistent on its surface. Even so, there is still enough humidity in the air to allow thin clouds to form.

On the left, an image from the Visual Monitoring Camera (VMC) on board Mars Express, taken on October 10, 2018, clearly shows the AMEC streaming away from Arsia Mons. On the right, an annotated version labels the features seen in the image. Credit: ESA/GCP/UPV/EHU Bilbao

Although this feature has been spotted by a few different cameras on board various Mars-orbiting spacecraft, it's difficult for most of them to observe it regularly. Given their camera setups, unless commanded to do otherwise, these spacecraft typically snap their imagery near the middle of the Martian day (Sol) to minimize the effects of shadows.

However, by mid-Sol, the Arsia Mons Elongated Cloud is usually gone.

According to the ESA: "The cloud undergoes a rapid daily cycle that repeats every morning for several months. It begins growing before sunrise on the western slope of Arsia Mons before expanding westwards for two and a half hours, growing remarkably fast – at over 600 km/h – at an altitude of 45 km. It then stops expanding, detaches from its initial location, and is pulled further westwards still by high-altitude winds, before evaporating in the late morning as air temperatures increase with the rising Sun."

This infographic displays all the known details of the Arsia Mons Elongated Cloud's location and daily cycle. Credit: ESA

"Although orographic clouds are commonly observed on Earth, they don't reach such enormous lengths or show such vivid dynamics," study co-author Agustin Sánchez-Lavega, who is the Science Lead for the VMC at the University of the Basque Country, said in an ESA news release. "Understanding this cloud gives us the exciting opportunity to try to replicate the cloud's formation with models – models that will improve our knowledge of climatic systems on both Mars and Earth."

A WEBCAM FOR MARS SCIENCE

One remarkable aspect of this new study is that the images used to track the daily pattern of the AMEC were snapped by a camera that was never intended to be used for science.

The Visual Monitoring Camera (VMC) on Mars Express is similar to what an off-the-shelf webcam would have been like when the spacecraft was assembled, roughly 20 years ago.

This artist impression of the Mars Express orbiter shows the location of the Mars Webcam (aka the Visual Monitoring Camera). Credit: ESA/Scott Sutherland

The VMC had one purpose when Mars Express arrived at the Red Planet in 2003. It provided the team back on Earth with direct visual confirmation that the Beagle 2 lander had detached from the orbiter and was on its way to Mars' surface. Although Beagle 2 ultimately did not land intact, VMC performed its job flawlessly and was subsequently shut down.

Four years later, the mission team turned it back on. Unofficially renamed the Mars Webcam, on each orbit of the planet, it took dozens of images which were then uploaded for everyone to see. While not showing off as much detail as its high-resolution science cameras, it was still a fantastic tool for public outreach.

The Mars Webcam on Flickr. Image credits: ESA

"However, recently, the VMC was reclassified as a camera for science," Jorge Hernández Bernal of the University of the Basque Country, said in an ESA press release. Hernández Bernal, who studies Mars' climate using the VMC, is the lead author of this new study on the AMEC.

"Although it has a low spatial resolution, it has a wide field of view — essential to see the big picture at different local times of day — and is wonderful for tracking a feature's evolution over both a long period of time and in small time steps. As a result, we could study the whole cloud across numerous life cycles."

A MYSTERY STILL TO SOLVE

Although observations from Mars Express have revealed the Arsia Mons Elongated Cloud's daily patterns, there is still at least one big question left about this weather pattern.

According to the ESA, clouds are seen to form at the tops of all of Mars' volcanoes throughout most of the Martian year. In the months leading up to summer for Mars' southern hemisphere, all of these clouds disappear — except at Arsia Mons. It's at this time that the Arsia Mons Elongated Cloud appears and does so repeatedly, day after day.

"This cloud repeats every Martian year due to a delicate balance of conditions," Justin Cowart, a Ph.D. student at Stony Brook University who was not involved in the study, explains. "First, the south pole is approaching its summer equinox, and as it shrinks back the atmosphere becomes denser and more moisture-laden. Second, the atmosphere in the region of Arsia Mons is still in the process of warming up as Mars approaches the Sun. Third, the warming skies in the southern hemisphere start lofting dust, which provides small particles for water to condense onto."

Mars' south polar ice cap, imaged by Mars Express' High Resolution Stereo Camera on February 25, 2015. Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin

"The last condition is wind," Cowart, who studies Mars geology using orbital imagery, added. "Shortly after the Sun rises, winds start blowing west across the region. This wind pushes air up the eastern slope of Arsia Mons. The 20 km difference in elevation from base to summit causes the water to condense out as the air ascends and cools."

Although we can see how all of these factors add up to produce the AMEC, there is still one question left unanswered here. Why, with three volcanoes in close proximity to one another — Arsia Mons, Pavonis Mons, and Ascraeus Mons — plus Olympus Mons nearby as well, do we see this cloud formation associated only with Arsia Mons?

"This first study is mainly observational. In a second more theoretical study, we will try to understand in greater detail the formation of the cloud, which is formed by the interaction of the atmosphere with the slopes of the volcano," Hernández-Bernal said in a Tweet on Tuesday.


Martian Climate

Of all the planets in the Solar System, the seasons of Mars are the most Earth-like, due to the similar tilts of the two planets’ rotational axes. The lengths of the Martian seasons are about twice those of Earth’s, as Mars’s greater distance from the Sun leads to the Martian year being about two Earth years long. Martian surface temperatures vary from lows of about −143 °C (−225 °F) (at the winter polar caps) to highs of up to 35 °C (95 °F) (in equatorial summer). The wide range in temperatures is due to the thin atmosphere which cannot store much solar heat, the low atmospheric pressure, and the low thermal inertia of Martian soil. The planet is also 1.52 times as far from the Sun as Earth, resulting in just 43% of the amount of sunlight.

If Mars had an Earth-like orbit, its seasons would be similar to Earth’s because its axial tilt is similar to Earth’s. The comparatively large eccentricity of the Martian orbit has a significant effect. Mars is near perihelion when it is summer in the southern hemisphere and winter in the north, and near aphelion when it is winter in the southern hemisphere and summer in the north. As a result, the seasons in the southern hemisphere are more extreme and the seasons in the northern are milder than would otherwise be the case. The summer temperatures in the south can reach up to 30 kelvins warmer than the equivalent summer temperatures in the north.

Mars also has the largest dust storms in the Solar System. These can vary from a storm over a small area, to gigantic storms that cover the entire planet. They tend to occur when Mars is closest to the Sun, and have been shown to increase the global temperature.


What are the cloud-like blobs in the Martian southern hemisphere? - Astronomy

The world's most viewed site on global warming and climate change

Over the next 25 years, improved imagery revealed that the face was rather faceless…

Evidence is steadily mounting that Mars could have supported life in the past and there are tantalizing indications that the Red Planet might still support be microscopic organisms. So, unlike the Face on Mars and impact craters circled up on satellite images, there is reason to believe that geologic features resembling stromatolites, might actually be something like stromatolites… But, we can’t possibly know until astronauts bring Martian sedimentary rocks back home to Earth.

Defining Stromatolites

Scientists disagree on how to define stromatolites. A common definition goes something like: A laminated rock formed by the growth of blue-green algae (i.e., cyanobacteria)”. This definition is, in fact, such a gross oversimplification as be scientifically useless. It does contain a modicum of truth, however, in that the largest volume of stromatolitic formations was likely formed by biogenic processes involving photosynthetic cyanobacteria. Cyanobacteria’s metabolic byproduct, oxygen, rusted the earth, pumped enormous oxygen poison to them into earth’s atmosphere, and in so doing paved the way for aerobic-based life to emerge and diversify cyanobacteria’s contributions to life led to their own prodigious decline.

Stromatolites and their close cousins the thrombolites, are rock-like buildups of microbial mats that form in limestone- or dolostone-forming environments. Together with oncoids (formerly called “algal biscuits” or “Girvanella”), they typically form by the baffling, trapping, and precipitation of particles by communities of microorganisms such as bacteria and algae. In some cases, they can form inorganically, for example when seawaters are oversaturated with certain chemicals resulting in precipitation. Stromatolites are defined as laminated accretionary structures that have synoptic relief (i.e., they stick up above the seafloor). Stromatolite-building communities include the oldest known fossils, dating back some 3.5 billion years when the environments of Earth were too hostile to support life as we know it today. We can presume that the microbial communities consisted of complex consortia of species with diverse metabolic needs, and that competition for resources and differing motility among them created the intricate structures we observe in these ancient fossils. Microbial communities diversified through time, with eukaryotic organisms eventually joining the mix.

Excluding some exceedingly rare Precambrian fossils such as the Russian White Sea Ediacaran fauna, stromatolites and they’re the only fossils encoding the first 7/8th of the history of life on earth. They encode the role that ancient microorganisms played in the evolution of life on earth and in shaping earth’s environments. The fossil record of stromatolites is astonishingly extensive, spanning some four billion years of geological history with the forming organisms possibly having occupied every conceivable environment that ever existed on earth. Today, stromatolites are nearly extinct in marine environments, living a precarious existence in only a few localities worldwide. Modern stromatolites were first discovered in Shark Bay, Australia in 1956, and throughout western Australia in both marine and non-marine environments. New stromatolite localities have continued to be discovered in various places such as the Bahamas, the Indian Ocean and Yellowstone National Park, to name but a few localities.

Fossil Museum Dot Net

Geological Evidence for Past Life on Mars

The subject paper, Rizzo, 2020, is pay-walled. However, Vincenzo Rizzo was a coauthor of a paper published in February 2020, Mars: Algae, Lichens, Fossils, Minerals, Microbial Mats, and Stromatolites in Gale Crater, Joseph et al., 2020. They make a very good case for the morphological similarities of Martian rocks to Earth rocks bearing microbial fossils. Here is an example:

The similarities are striking, but they note that…

The authors were unable to precisely determine if these specimens are biological or consist of Martian minerals and salt formations that mimic biology. Therefore, a review of Martian min-erals and mineralization was conducted and the possibility these formations may be abiogenic is discussed. It is concluded that the overall pattern of evidence is mutually related and that specimens resembling algae-like and other organisms may have colonized the Gale Crater, beginning billions of years ago. That some or most of these specimens may be abiotic, cannot be ruled out. Additional investigation targeting features similar to these should be a priority of future studies devoted to the search for current and past life on Mars.

(1) (PDF) Mars: Algae, Lichens, Fossils, Minerals, Microbial Mats, and Stromatolites in Gale Crater. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/339777176_Mars_Algae_Lichens_Fossils_Minerals_Microbial_Mats_and_Stromatolites_in_Gale_Crater [accessed Apr 15 2020].

Joseph et al., 2020

Fascinating stuff, but we won’t know for sure until we do this sort of thing on Mars…

Even then, we may not know for sure.

Pluto and the Genesis Rock
By JOSH GELERNTER
July 31, 2015

[…]

By 1965, NASA had 28 astronauts, all military or ex-military pilots. In a nod to science — which American scientists felt NASA was neglecting — it hired six more astronauts: three physicists, two MDs, and a geologist. The geologist was Harrison Schmitt. National Review readers may recognize the name — from 1977 to 1983, Schmitt was a Republican senator from New Mexico.

But long before he went into politics, he was NASA’s only geologist-astronaut. Geology was part of every astronaut’s training, but only in an uninspiring, perfunctory way. Schmitt knew it would be absurd for astronauts to arrive on the Moon and not understand what they were looking at. The lunar astronauts needed to take geology seriously what they needed, Schmitt decided, was a really good teacher.

Schmitt picked out Leon Silver, a prominent CalTech geologist with whom Schmitt had studied as an undergrad. Silver was the sort of magnetic teacher each of us fondly remembers having had at one time or another Schmitt thought he was just the man who could suck the pilot-astronauts into a world of stones and dirt.

[…]

Silver’s geology field trips became standard. The astronauts who went to the Moon knew they weren’t just looking for rocks, they were looking for clues to the Moon’s history and, by extension, the history of the Earth, of the solar system, and of all creation. They would keep their eyes open for collapsed lava tubes and dead volcanoes. They would examine impact craters of the sort that vanish on the geologically active Earth, but are preserved forever on the geologically dead Moon. They weren’t just looking for rocks — they were looking for specific minerals that could settle arguments about the Moon’s birth. Silver told them to keep their eyes open for anorthosite, distinguished by telltale white plagioclase crystals. Anorthosite, said Silver, would probably be scarce on the Moon — but it was what many geologists suspected the Moon’s original crust had been made of. Finding a piece of it would be a triumph for the Apollo missions, and for science.

And Silver was in Mission Control when one of his best students, astronaut Dave Scott, radioed to Houston: “Oh man! Guess what we just found! Guess what we just found! I think we found what we came for!”

What he’d found was the piece of anorthosite that’s now known as the “Genesis Rock.” The solar system is 4.5 billion years old the Genesis Rock is just 100 million years younger. Planetary science had been revolutionized.

(In fact, 45 years later, the Genesis Rock is still making waves. In 2013, researchers at the University of Michigan discovered it contained traces of water, casting doubt on the dominant theories of the Moon’s formation.)

[…]

National Review

Science is never “settled”… When it settles, it gets boring.

References

Joseph, Rhawn & Graham, L & Büdel, Burkhard & Jung, Patrick & Kidron, Giora & Latif, Khalid & Armstrong, R & Harb, Hoda & Ray, Joseph George & Ramos, Geraldo & Consorti, Lorenzo & Rizzo, Vincenzo & Gibson, C & Schild, Rudolph. (2020). “Mars: Algae, Lichens, Fossils, Minerals, Microbial Mats, and Stromatolites in Gale Crater”. Journal of Astrobiology and Space Science Reviews 3. 40-111. 10.37720/jassr.03082020.

Rizzo, Vincenzo. (2020). “Why should geological criteria used on Earth not be valid also for Mars? Evidence of possible microbialites and algae in extinct Martian lakes”. International Journal of Astrobiology. 1-12. 10.1017/S1473550420000026.

Day 29 of America Held Hostage by ChiCom-19

At noon yesterday, Dallas County reported 10 fatalities in a single day…

Dallas County Health and Human Services is reporting 89 additional positive cases of COVID-19 today, bringing the total case count in Dallas County to 1,877. Ten additional deaths are being reported, including:

*A man in his 60’s who was a resident of a long-term care facility in the city of Dallas and had been critically ill in an area hospital.
*A man in his 70’s who was a resident of a long-term care facility in the city of Dallas and had been hospitalized in an area hospital.
*A man in his 80’s who was a resident of a long-term care facility in the city of Dallas and had been hospitalized in an area hospital.
*A woman in her 50’s who was a resident of a long-term care facility in the city of Dallas.
*A woman in her 90’s who was a resident of a long-term care facility in the city of Dallas.
*A man in his 50’s who was a resident of the city of Dallas and had been critically ill in an area hospital.
*A man in his 50’s who was a resident of the city of Dallas and had been critically ill in an area hospital.
*A man in his 30’s who was a resident of the city of Garland and had been critically ill in an area hospital.
*A woman in her 80’s who was a resident of the city of Mesquite and had been hospitalized in an area hospital.
*A man in his 80’s who was a resident of the city of DeSoto and had been found deceased at home.

2019 Novel Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19)

I could make a very insensitive remark, but I won’t. In the meantime, we all remain under “house arrest” thanks to Fire Marshal Gump.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins says Dallas is ‘in the middle’ of its coronavirus fight
As Dallas County announced its highest one-day COVID-19 death toll, Judge Clay Jenkins said the peak is projected for the end of April or early May.
Author: Teresa Woodard
Published: 6:11 PM CDT April 14, 2020

DALLAS — Three weeks to the day after Dallas County’s stay-at-home order went into effect, the county announced 10 COVID-19 related deaths, its highest one-day total.

The victims range from a man in his 30s to a woman in her 90s.

Five of them lived at Brentwood Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation facilities in the city of Dallas.

[…]

“Today is somber news,” said Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins in a Tuesday afternoon news conference. “We lost 10 people today.”

[…]

“We are looking at a peak now that is either the end of this month, or maybe the beginning of next month,” he said. “I can’t stress how important it is that you don’t let up now.”

[…]

WFAA 8 ABC

Yesterday’s totals pushed the Mendoza Line crossing out to March 14, 2035…

Dallas CountyCHICOM-19
PopulationCasesDeaths
2,637,7721,877422.2%
% of population with0.07%0.00%
% with, rounded0.1%0.0%
% without99.93%100.0%
% without, rounded99.9%100%
Menodoza Line (.200)3/14/2035 0.200

Thankfully, the public’s patience with this “free trial” of socialism and the Fire Marshal Gump types is wearing thin.

Protesters against stay-at-home order block Lansing streets in ‘Operation Gridlock’
by Newschannel 3 Wednesday, April 15th 2020

LANSING, Mich. — On Wednesday, the Michigan Conservative Coalition protested Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home order during a noon rally.

In a Facebook event, the promoted the protest as Operation Gridlock, encouraging protesters to drive their cars to Lansing, creating a traffic jam in the city.

“Everyone, every citizen, every business owner needs to get out of their house, out of their chair and get in their car, or truck, or anything that is legal to drive on taxpayer funded roads,” the Facebook event said. “Then drive to Lansing to circle the Michigan Capitol Building at 100 N. Capitol Avenue at noon on April 15.”

[…]

NBC25News

A weird long cloud on Mars has returned. It's right on schedule, scientists say.

A weird long cloud has formed so many times over the same Martian volcano that scientists have given up and named it.

Meet the Arsia Mons Elongated Cloud, or AMEC. Its long bright trail has become a familiar feature over the peak known as Arsia Mons, to the southeast of the more famous Olympus Mons. Although the cloud comes and goes over the volcano, scientists say it isn't formed by the volcano itself. And it is timely: Scientists affiliated with Europe's Mars Express orbiter were waiting for it to show up again on its yearly cycle.

"We have been investigating this intriguing phenomenon and were expecting to see such a cloud form around now," Jorge Hernandez-Bernal, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of the Basque Country in Spain and the lead author of the ongoing study, said in a statement released by the European Space Agency (ESA), which runs the spacecraft.

"This elongated cloud forms every Martian year during this season around the southern solstice, and repeats for 80 days or even more," Hernandez-Bernal said. "However, we don't know yet if the clouds are always quite this impressive."

So far, scientists have caught the cloud clocking in as long as 1,100 miles (1,800 kilometers), according to ESA. The tail-like structure is made of water ice, and despite its location over Arsia Mons, it isn't formed by the volcano itself, scientists said, but instead by the way local winds interact with the topography.

And the Arsia Mons Elongated Cloud doesn't just come, stick around for a while, then dissipate. It forms and fades over the course of a few hours each local morning, then returns the next day. That makes the weird cloud difficult to study from orbit around the Red Planet.

But Mars Express is uniquely qualified to do so. It carries an instrument called the Visual Monitoring Camera, which can photograph an unusually wide swath of the planet in a single frame. And the spacecraft's orbit lines up to put Arsia Mons in its view during the morning hours when the cloud is visible.

"The extent of this huge cloud can't be seen if your camera only has a narrow field of view, or if you're only observing in the afternoon," Eleni Ravanis, a graduate trainee on the Visual Monitoring Camera team, said in the statement. "Luckily for Mars Express, the highly elliptical orbit of the spacecraft, coupled with the wide field of view of the VMC instrument, lets us take pictures covering a wide area of the planet in the early morning. That means we can catch it!"

The scientists last spotted Arsia Mons' tail-like cloud in September and October 2018. At the time and again now, the days are the shortest of the year in the Red Planet's northern hemisphere and the longest of the year in the southern hemisphere. Arsia Mons itself is located just a bit south of the Martian equator and stretches to an altitude of about 12 miles (20 km).

Scientists hope that by continuing to study the strange cloud, they can begin to understand how long it has been making its appearances and why it appears only in the mornings.