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date: 30 November 2022

Clouds in the Martian Atmospherelocked

Clouds in the Martian Atmospherelocked

  • A. MäättänenA. MäättänenLATMOS/IPSL, Sorbonne Université, UVSQ Paris-Saclay, CNRS
  •  and F. MontmessinF. MontmessinLATMOS/IPSL, Sorbonne Université, UVSQ Paris-Saclay, CNRS

Summary

Although resembling an extremely dry desert, planet Mars hosts clouds in its atmosphere. Every day somewhere on the planet a part of the tiny amount of water vapor held by the atmosphere can condense as ice crystals to form mainly cirrus-type clouds. The existence of water ice clouds has been known for a long time and they have been studied for decades, leading to the establishment of a well-known climatology and understanding on their formation and properties. Despite their thinness, they have a clear impact on the atmospheric temperatures, thus affecting the Martian climate.

Another, more exotic type of clouds forms as well on Mars. The atmospheric temperatures can plunge to such frigid values that the major gaseous component of the atmosphere, CO2, condenses as ice crystals. These clouds form in the cold polar night where they also contribute to the formation of the CO2 ice polar cap, and also in the mesosphere at very high altitudes, near the edge of space, analogously to the noctilucent clouds on Earth. The mesospheric clouds, discovered in the early 2000s, have put our understanding of the Martian atmosphere to a test.

On Mars, cloud crystals form on ice nuclei, mostly provided by the omnipresent mineral dust. Thus, the clouds link the three major climatic cycles: those of the two major volatiles, H2O and CO2, and that of dust, which is a major climatic agent itself.

Subjects

  • Planetary Atmospheres and Oceans
  • Planetary Surfaces
  • Planetary Chemistry and Cosmochemistry

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