Using computer simulations, researchers have recently discovered a new water cycle that explains why Mars is a barren planet.

The red planet has a middle atmospheric layer, like Earth, that should restrain rising gas, causing it to turn to ice and drop back to the planet surface.

But a new study has discovered an unusual mechanism that punctures that protective layer.

Researchers from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology and the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Germany have used computer simulations to discover a unique water cycle in the Martian summertime.

During the Martian summer season, water vapor efficiently rises from the lower into the upper atmosphere. Winds there, carry the rare gas to the north pole. While part of the water vapor decays and escapes into space, the rest sinks back down near the poles.

Computer simulations show how water vapor overcomes the barrier of cold air in the middle atmosphere of Mars and reaches higher atmospheric layers. This could explain why Mars has lost most of its original water.

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Billions of years ago, Mars was very rich in water with rivers, and even an ocean, just like Earth. But unlike our world, the red planet has changed dramatically. Today, only small amounts of frozen water exist in the ground; in the atmosphere, water vapor occurs only in traces.

Mars has lost about 80% of its water and even today, the planet leaks hydrogen into space.

Another reason why the red planet is a barren place is the vast dust storms that span the entire planet and repeatedly afflict Mars at intervals of several years. The last such storms occurred in 2007 and 2018.

“The amounts of dust swirling through the atmosphere during such a storm facilitate the transport of water vapor into high layers of the air,” says Alexander Medvedev from MPS.

Dust particles can absorb sunlight and heat up. Therefore, causing the temperatures to rise in the atmosphere by as much as 30 degrees.

“Our model shows with unprecedented accuracy how dust in the atmosphere affects the microphysical processes involved in the transformation of ice into water vapor,” explains Dmitry Shaposhnikov of MPS, first author of the new study, which was a collaboration between Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology and the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Germany.

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