MIT scientists create Martian clouds on Earth: Report

The MIT scientists studying Martian clouds have reportedly have created cirrus-like Martian clouds on Earth to study the Red Planet's atmosphere.

Using a cloud chamber in Germany and rock from the Mojave Desert, their experiment shows that the Red Planet's ice clouds often need far more humidity to form than clouds on Earth.

According to a report in Los Angeles Times, the experiment shows that the Red Planet's ice clouds often need far more humidity to form than clouds on Earth.

The findings, published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, reportedly show that Martian clouds form under very different conditions than many scientists once thought - which may help researchers to better understand the planet's water cycle.

It may be noted that Mars does have clouds and the report adds that they're rather like the wispy cirrus clouds over Earth, which are filled with ice crystals and hover high in the atmosphere.

Lead author Dan Cziczo, an atmospheric scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, realized there was a much easier way to study Martian clouds: make them on Earth.

The researchers went to the Aerosol Interaction and Dynamics in the Atmosphere facility in Karlsruhe, Germany - a former nuclear reactor that's been turned into a chamber to study how Earth's clouds form.

To run an experiment on Martian clouds, the researchers had to first find the right kind of rocky particles to seed them. Clouds can't really form water droplets or ice unless they have a nucleus to grow around, and on Earth that can be anything from dust to man-made pollutants. On Mars, it's mostly finely ground rock.

So the researchers used the most Mars-like rock they could --  Mojave Mars Simulant, an olivine basalt that looks very similar a Red Planet rock, donated by other researchers who found it in the desert.

They pulled the oxygen out of the chamber, because Mars doesn't have much, filled it either with nitrogen or, for an even more Mars-like environment, carbon dioxide. Then they used the Mojave Mars Simulant to kick up a dust storm in the chamber and seed the clouds.

The cloud chamber was meant for warmer, Earth-like temperatures, but they lowered the thermostat as much as they could for a more Mars-like environment, testing a chilling temperature range of minus-73 degrees to minus-119 degrees Fahrenheit.

The scientists created 10 clouds that each formed in about 15 minutes.

The study reveals the perils of making assumptions about Mars' atmosphere based on Earth's, the researcher said. 

With Inputs