Solar heat is a likely cause of massive dust storms on Mars

A planet’s radiant energy budget is a crucial measure. A new study presents a global picture of Mars’ radiated power based on measurements from different missions. Measurements from NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Science Laboratory’s Curiosity rover, and InSight missions reveal strong seasonal and diurnal variations of Mars’ emitted power.

The study indicates that the seasonal energy imbalances in the amount of solar energy absorbed and released by Mars are likely to cause dust storms on Mars. It also plays a vital role in better comprehension of the climate and atmosphere of the red planet.

Using observations from martian satellites, landers, and rovers, scientists estimated Mars’ emitted energy globally as a season function, including periods with a global dust storm. They found a strong energy imbalance of ~15.3 % between Mars’ seasons, which is much larger than on Earth (0.4%) or Titan (2.9%).

During the 2001 planet-encircling dust storm on Mars, the global average emitted power decreased by 22% during daytime but increased by 29%.

Ellen Creecy, the lead author of the study1 and a doctoral student from the University of Houston, Texas, said, “One of the most interesting findings is that energy excess—more energy being absorbed than produced—could be one of the generating mechanisms of dust storms on Mars.”

Dr. Germán Martínez, USRA Staff Scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI) and co-author of the paper, said, “Our results showing strong energy imbalances suggest that current numerical models should be revisited, as these typically assume that Mars’ radiant energy is balanced between Mars’ seasons. Furthermore, our results highlight the connection between dust storms and energy imbalances, thus providing new insights into the generation of dust storms on Mars.”

The results of this study could potentially improve the current understanding of the martian climate and atmospheric circulations.

Journal Reference:

Ellen Creecy et al. Mars’ emitted energy and seasonal energy imbalance. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2121084119

Author: systems