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Article

Francisco González-Galindo

The Martian ionosphere is a plasma embedded within the neutral upper atmosphere of the planet. Its main source is the ionization of the CO2-dominated Martian mesosphere and thermosphere by energetic EUV solar radiation. The ionosphere of Mars is subject to an important variability induced by changes in its forcing mechanisms (e.g., the UV solar flux) and by variations in the neutral atmosphere (e.g., the presence of global dust storms, atmospheric waves and tides, changes in atmospheric composition, etc.). Its vertical structure is dominated by a maximum in electron concentration at altitude about 120–140 km, coincident with the peak of the ionization rate. Below, there is a secondary peak produced by solar X-rays and photoelectron-impact ionization. A sporadic third layer, possibly of meteoric origin, has been also detected below. The most abundant ion in the Martian ionosphere is O2 +, although O+ can become more abundant in the upper ionospheric layers. While below about 180–200 km the Martian ionosphere is dominated by photochemical processes, above those altitudes the dynamics of the plasma becomes more important. The ionosphere is also an important source of escaping particles via processes such as dissociative recombination of ions or ion pickup. So, characterization of the ionosphere provides or can provide information about such disparate systems and processes as solar radiation reaching the planet, the neutral atmosphere, meteoric influx, atmospheric escape to space, or the interaction of the planet with the solar wind. It is thus not surprising that the interest about this region dates from the beginning of the space era. From the first measurements provided by the Mariner 4 mission in the 1960s to observations by the Mars Express and MAVEN orbiters in the 2010s, our knowledge of this atmospheric region is the consequence of the accumulation of more than 50 years of discontinuous measurements by different space missions. Numerical simulations by computational models able to simulate the processes that shape the ionosphere have also been commonly employed to obtain information about this region, to provide an interpretation of the observations and to fill their gaps. As a result, at the end of the 2010s the Martian ionosphere was the best known one after that of the Earth. However, there are still areas for which our knowledge is far from being complete. Examples are the details and balance of the mechanisms populating the nightside ionosphere, the origin and variability of the lower ionospheric peak, and the precise mechanisms shaping the topside ionosphere.

Article

Von Del Chamberlain

We can be certain that all cultures wondered about the Sun, Moon, planets, and stars, and that they found ways of incorporating what they observed into comprehension of themselves existing within their perceptible surroundings, both on earth and in the sky. Thanks to the gleanings of anthropologists in the late 1800s and early 1900s, we have a treasure trove revealing that the Native American Skidi Band of the Pawnee Nation possessed a unique creation tradition rich in astronomical symbolism. This includes the belief that the two bright planets encompassing within their orbits the orbit of planet Earth were considered by the Skidi to be the cosmic parents of the very first human child, a girl; the Sun and Moon were considered parents of the first male child. This story of human origin includes the legendary journey of the male Great Red Warrior from the east to court the Beautiful Bright White female star of the west, followed by the birth of their daughter transported to earth. This is a striking allegory of the apparent migrations of Mars and Venus, continually changing in brightness, undergoing retrograde motions and sometimes seeming to unite in close conjunctions. Watching these interrelations, repeated over and over with intriguing variations, likely led to and continually reinforced this tradition. Likewise, the apparent monthly relationships of Sun and Moon, with occasional eclipses, visually reinforced the account of the initial male human birth. Thus, the Skidi Pawnee tradition of human origins is an interesting, indeed beautiful, example of human interpretation of natural phenomena.

Article

Matthew R. Balme

Dust devils are rotating columns or cones of air, loaded with dust and other fine particles, that are most often found in arid or desert areas. They are common on both Mars and Earth, despite Mars’ very thin atmosphere. The smallest and least intense dust devils might last only a few 10s of seconds and be just a meters or two across. The largest dust devils can persist for hours and are intensely swirling columns of dust with “skirts” of sand at their base, 10s or more meters in diameter and hundreds of meters high; even larger examples have been seen on Mars. Dust devils on Earth have been documented for thousands of years, but scientific observations really began in the early 20th century, culminating in a period of intense research in the 1960s. The discovery of dust devils on Mars was made using data from the NASA Viking lander and orbiter missions in the late 1970s and early 1980s and stimulated a renewed scientific interest in dust devils. Observations from subsequent lander, rover, and orbital missions show that Martian dust devils are common but heterogeneously distributed in space and time and have a significant effect on surface albedo (often leaving “tracks” on the surface) but do not appear to be triggers of global or major dust storms. An aspiration of future research is to synthesize observations and detailed models of dust devils to estimate more accurately their role in dust lifting at both local and global scales, both on Earth and on Mars.

Article

Nicolas Mangold, Jessica Flahaut, and Véronique Ansan

Planetary surface compositions are fundamental to an understanding of both the interior activity through differentiation processes and volcanic activity and the external evolution through alteration processes and accumulations of volatiles. While the Moon has been studied since early on using ground-based instruments and returned samples, observing the surface composition of the terrestrial planets did not become practical until after the development of orbital and in situ missions with instruments tracking mineralogical and elemental variations. The poorly evolved, atmosphere-free bodies like the Moon and Mercury enable the study of the formation of the most primitive crusts, through processes such as the crystallization of a magma ocean, and their volcanic evolution. Nevertheless, recent studies have shown more diversity than initially expected, including the presence of ice in high latitude regions. Because of its heavy atmosphere, Venus remains the most difficult planetary body to study and the most poorly known in regards to its composition, triggering some interest for future missions. In contrast, Mars exploration has generated a huge amount of data in the last two decades, revealing a planet with a mineralogical diversity close to that of the Earth. While Mars crust is dominated by basaltic material, recent studies concluded for significant contributions of more felsic and alkali-rich igneous material, especially in the ancient highlands. These ancient terrains also display widespread outcrops of hydrous minerals, especially phyllosilicates, which are key in the understanding of past climate conditions and suggest a volatile-rich early evolution with implications for exobiology. Recent terrains exhibit a cryosphere with ice-rich landforms at, or close to the surface, of mid- and high latitudes, generating a strong interest for recent climatic variability and resources for future manned missions. While Mars is certainly the planetary body the most similar to Earth, the observation of specific processes such as those linked to interactions with solar wind on atmosphere-free bodies, or with a thick acidic atmosphere on Venus, improve our understanding of the differences in evolution of terrestrial bodies. Future exploration is still necessary to increase humankind’s knowledge and further build a global picture of the formation and evolution of planetary surfaces.

Article

The planetary boundary layer of Mars is a crucial component of the Martian climate and meteorology, as well as a key driver of the surface-atmosphere exchanges on Mars. As such, it is explored by several landers and orbiters; high-resolution atmospheric modeling is used to interpret the measurements by those spacecrafts. The planetary boundary layer of Mars is particularly influenced by the strong radiative control of the Martian surface and, as a result, features a more extreme version of planetary boundary layer phenomena occurring on Earth. In daytime, the Martian planetary boundary layer is highly turbulent, mixing heat and momentum in the atmosphere up to about 10 kilometers from the surface. Daytime convective turbulence is organized as convective cells and vortices, the latter giving rise to numerous dust devils when dust is lifted and transported in the vortex. The nighttime planetary boundary layer is dominated by stable-layer turbulence, which is much less intense than in the daytime, and slope winds in regions characterized by uneven topography. Clouds and fogs are associated with the planetary boundary layer activity on Mars.

Article

Alexander T. Basilevsky

Lunar and planetary geology can be described using examples such as the geology of Earth (as the reference case) and geologies of the Earth’s satellite the Moon; the planets Mercury, Mars and Venus; the satellite of Saturn Enceladus; the small stony asteroid Eros; and the nucleus of the comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Each body considered is illustrated by its global view, with information given as to its position in the solar system, size, surface, environment including gravity acceleration and properties of its atmosphere if it is present, typical landforms and processes forming them, materials composing these landforms, information on internal structure of the body, stages of its geologic evolution in the form of stratigraphic scale, and estimates of the absolute ages of the stratigraphic units. Information about one body may be applied to another body and this, in particular, has led to the discovery of the existence of heavy “meteoritic” bombardment in the early history of the solar system, which should also significantly affect Earth. It has been shown that volcanism and large-scale tectonics may have not only been an internal source of energy in the form of radiogenic decay of potassium, uranium and thorium, but also an external source in the form of gravity tugging caused by attractions of the neighboring bodies. The knowledge gained by lunar and planetary geology is important for planning and managing space missions and for the practical exploration of other bodies of the solar system and establishing manned outposts on them.

Article

Pascal Rosenblatt, Ryuki Hyodo, Francesco Pignatale, Antony Trinh, Sebastien Charnoz, Kevin Dunseath, Mariko Dunseath-Terao, and Hidenori Genda

The origin of the natural satellites or moons of the solar system is as challenging to unravel as the formation of the planets. Before the start of the space probe exploration era, this topic of planetary science was restricted to telescopic observations, which limited the possibility of testing different formation scenarios. This era has considerably boosted this topic of research, particularly after the Apollo missions returned samples from the Moon’s surface to Earth. Observations from subsequent deep space missions such as Viking 1 and 2 Orbiters, Voyager 1 and 2, Phobos-2, Galileo, Cassini-Huygens, and the most recent Mars orbiters such as Mars Express, as well as from the Hubble space telescope, have served to intensify research in this area. Each moon system has its own specificities, with different origins and histories. It is widely accepted that the Earth’s Moon formed after a giant collision between the proto-Earth and a body similar in size to Mars. The Galilean moons of Jupiter, on the other hand, appear to have formed by accretion in a circum-Jovian disk, while smaller, irregularly shaped satellites were probably captured by the giant planet. The small and medium-sized Saturnian moons may have formed from the rings encircling the planet. Among the terrestrial planets, Mercury and Venus have no moons, the Earth has a single large moon, and Mars has two very small satellites. This raises some challenging questions: What processes can lead to moon formation around terrestrial planets and what parameters determine the possible outcomes, such as the number and size of moons? The answer to such fundamental questions necessarily entails a thorough understanding of the formation of the Martian system and may have relevance to the possible existence of (exo)moons orbiting exoplanets. The formation of such exomoons is of great importance as they could influence conditions for habitability or for maintaining life over long periods of time on the surface of Earth-like exoplanets, for example by limiting the variations of the orientation of the planet’s rotation axis and thus preventing frequent changes of its climate. Our current knowledge concerning the origin of Phobos and Deimos has been acquired from observational data as well as theoretical work. Early observations led to the idea that the two satellites were captured asteroids but this created difficulties in reconciling the current orbits of Phobos and Deimos with those of captured bodies, hence suggesting the need for an alternative theory. A giant-impact scenario provides a description of how moons similar to Phobos and Deimos can be formed in orbits similar to those observed today. This scenario also restricts the range of possible composition of the two moons, providing a motivation for future missions that aim for the first time to bring material from the Martian system back to Earth.

Article

Edik Dubinin, Janet G. Luhmann, and James A. Slavin

Knowledge about the solar wind interactions of Venus, Mars, and Mercury is rapidly expanding. While the Earth is also a terrestrial planet, it has been studied much more extensively and in far greater detail than its companions. As a result we direct the reader to specific references on that subject for obtaining an accurate comparative picture. Due to the strength of the Earth’s intrinsic dipole field, a relatively large volume is carved out in interplanetary space around the planet and its atmosphere. This “magnetosphere” is regarded as a shield from external effects, but in actuality much energy and momentum are channeled into it, especially at high latitudes, where the frequent interconnection between the Earth’s magnetic field and the interplanetary field allows some access by solar wind particles and electric fields to the upper atmosphere and ionosphere. Moreover, reconnection between oppositely directed magnetic fields occurs in Earth’s extended magnetotail—producing a host of other phenomena including injection of a ring current of energized internal plasma from the magnetotail into the inner magnetosphere—creating magnetic storms and enhancements in auroral activity and related ionospheric outflows. There are also permanent, though variable, trapped radiation belts that strengthen and decay with the rest of magnetospheric activity—depositing additional energy into the upper atmosphere over a wider latitude range. Virtually every aspect of the Earth’s solar wind interaction, highly tied to its strong intrinsic dipole field, has its own dedicated textbook chapters and review papers. Although Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars belong to the same class of rocky terrestrial planets, their interaction with solar wind is very different. Earth and Mercury have the intrinsic, mainly dipole magnetic field, which protects them from direct exposure by solar wind. In contrast, Venus and Mars have no such shield and solar wind directly impacts their atmospheres/ionospheres. In the first case, intrinsic magnetospheric cavities with a long tail are found. In the second case, magnetospheres are also formed but are generated by the electric currents induced in the conductive ionospheres. The interaction of solar wind with terrestrial planets also varies due to changes caused by different distances to the Sun and large variations in solar irradiance and solar wind parameters. Other important planetary differences like local strong crustal magnetization on Mars and almost total absence of the ionosphere on Mercury create new essential features to the interaction pattern. Solar wind might be also a feasible driver for planetary atmospheric losses of volatiles, which could historically affect the habitability of the terrestrial planets.