Scientists answer to long-debated mystery of what formed Martian landscapes

Mars
Credit: NASA

Scientists from The Open University (OU) have discovered a process that could explain the long-debated mystery of how land features on Mars are formed in the absence of significant amounts of water.

Experiments carried out in the OU Mars Simulation Chamber – specialised equipment, which is able to simulate the atmospheric conditions on Mars – reveal that Mars' thin atmosphere (about 7 mbar – compared to 1,000 mbar on Earth) combined with periods of relatively warm temperatures causes flowing on the surface to violently boil. This process can then move large amounts of sand and other sediment, which effectively 'levitates' on the boiling water.

This means that, in comparison to Planet Earth, relatively small amounts of moving across Mars' surface could form the large dune flows, gullies and other features, which characterise the Red Planet.

Dr Jan Raack, Marie Skłodowska-Curie Research Fellow at The Open University, is lead author of the research; he said:

"Whilst planetary scientists already know that the surface of Mars has 'mass-wasting' features – such as dune flows, gullies, and recurring slope lineae – which occur as a result of sediment transportation down a slope, the debate about what is forming them continues.

"Our research has discovered that this levitation effect caused by boiling water under low pressure enables the rapid transport of sand and sediment across the surface. This is a new geological phenomenon, which doesn't happen on Earth, and could be vital to understanding similar processes on other planetary surfaces."

Dr Raack conducted these experiments in the Hypervelocity Impact (HVI) Laboratory based at the OU. He added:

"The sources of this liquid water will require more observational studies; however, the research shows that the effects of relatively small amounts of water on Mars in forming on the surface may have been widely underestimated.

"We need to carry out more research into how water levitates on Mars, and missions such as the ESA ExoMars 2020 Rover will provide vital insight to help us better understand our closest neighbour."

The research has been published in the academic journal Nature Communications.


Explore further

Winters on Mars are shaping the Red Planet's landscape

More information: Jan Raack et al. Water induced sediment levitation enhances downslope transport on Mars, Nature Communications (2017). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-017-01213-z
Journal information: Nature Communications

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Oct 30, 2017
This process can then move large amounts of sand and other sediment, which effectively 'levitates' on the boiling water.

That's rich! Material 'levitates' on non-existent boiling water. Well that'll explain a lot....

Oct 30, 2017
Cantdrive85, try reading their paper and see if you can critique their data, methods or conclusions. At a cursory glance, their work looks pretty darn solid to me. The folks at Nature apparently concluded the same thing.

https://www.natur...z#auth-3

Oct 30, 2017
Cantdrive85, try reading their paper and see if you can critique their data, methods or conclusions. At a cursory glance, their work looks pretty darn solid to me. The folks at Nature apparently concluded the same thing.

https://www.natur...z#auth-3


You do realise that you are dealing with a cretin who believes that Earth used to orbit Saturn? And that Venus used to do handbrake turns around the solar system? Sorry, Mark, you are wasting your time!

Oct 30, 2017
Dust charging and electrical conductivity in the day and nighttime atmosphere of Mars
http://onlinelibr...047/full
And for comparison:
Lunar electric fields, surface potential and associated plasma sheaths
http://adsabs.har...14..103F

Be interesting to know what happens on either Mars or Moon in the event of a mega-scale Solar flare/CME, but I imagine their surfaces could be reworked considerably.

Oct 30, 2017
This process can then move large amounts of sand and other sediment, which effectively 'levitates' on the boiling water.

That's rich! Material 'levitates' on non-existent boiling water. Well that'll explain a lot....

What's rich is that you intentionally misinterpret the metaphor.
THAT explains a lot...

Oct 30, 2017
BTW. Even a thin atmosphere can eventually create dunes given a few million years...
On Earth it only take a decade or two.

Oct 31, 2017
BTW. Even a thin atmosphere can eventually create dunes given a few million years...
On Earth it only take a decade or two.
@Whyde
actually, it can move much faster than that, depending on the factors
https://www.nps.g...unes.pdf

here is a good answer that i saw about the "speed" of dunes
https://www.quora...s-travel

Oct 31, 2017
"actually, it can move much faster than that, depending on the factors"
Those factors can include charging too.
Static electricity strengthens desert dust storms
http://www.scienc...t-storms

Oct 31, 2017
"Sorry, Mark, you are wasting your time!"

You are probably right jonesdave, but the cretins need to be challenged on occasion. :-)

Oct 31, 2017
Gotta love me some Cretin Hop;
https://youtu.be/7ymeuOz0hZU

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