Nebulae, feathers, and other types of Red Planet clouds get the crowdsourced treatment.
You can help NASA scientists do cloudspotting Mars for free via the Zooniverse platform. Sign up for the project Here at Zooniverse (opens in new tab). The project, called Cloudspotting on Mars, invites people to look at 16 years of photos collected by NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), which has been active in the Red Planet since 2006.
“The information could help researchers determine why the planet’s atmosphere is only 1% as dense as Earth’s, despite ample evidence suggesting the planet once had a much thicker atmosphere,” wrote officials at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory ( JPL) NASA in California And expression (opens in new tab) released on Tuesday (June 28).
Related: 12 amazing photos from the Perseverance rover’s first year on Mars
Clouds appear as arcs in the MRO infrared images taken by the Mars Climate Sounder instrument. But until now, scientists have had to comb through the images themselves to look for these features.
“The team needs help reviewing this data on Zooniverse and tagging the arcs so scientists can more efficiently study where in the atmosphere they occur,” JPL officials wrote.
While Earth and Mars share some cloud similarities (the two worlds have water ice-rich clouds), the Red Planet also has clouds composed of carbon dioxide or dry ice. Studying clouds of all types will help scientists determine the structure of the center atmosphere of Marswhich is about 50 to 80 km above the planet.
“We want to find out what triggers the formation of clouds — specifically water ice clouds, which could show us how much water vapor is entering the atmosphere — and at what times of the year,” Marek Slipski, a postdoctoral researcher at JPL, said in the statement.
The project could also feed into long-term climate studies to better understand why Mars has lost its atmospherewhich could be due to atmospheric erosion over the eons.
“One theory suggests that various mechanisms could push water high into the atmosphere, where solar radiation breaks down these water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen,” JPL officials wrote.
The resulting hydrogen is so light that solar radiation could easily push it into space. In addition to the MRO work, another NASA mission was called MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution) also analyzes the phenomenon.
Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @spacedotcom or Facebook.
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