Massive dust storms are robbing Mars of its water | Science News

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Massive dust storms are robbing Mars of its water

Water vapor gets sucked up to high altitudes, allowing its hydrogen to escape into space

By
11:00am, January 22, 2018
Mars

DUSTUP A dust storm (right) captured by the Mars Global Surveyor in 2001 swirls over much of the Red Planet. These storms are helping hydrogen from water vapor escape from the Red Planet, a new study finds.

Storms of powdery Martian soil are contributing to the loss of the planet’s remaining water.

This newly proposed mechanism for water loss, reported January 22 in Nature Astronomy, might also hint at how Mars originally became dehydrated. Researchers used over a decade of imaging data taken by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to investigate the composition of the Red Planet’s frequent dust storms, some of which are vast enough to circle the planet for months.

During one massive dust storm in 2006 and 2007, signs of water vapor were found at unusually high altitudes in the atmosphere, nearly 80 kilometers up. That water vapor rose within “rocket dust storms” — storms with rapid vertical movement — on convection currents similar to those in some storm clouds on Earth, says study coauthor Nicholas Heavens, an astronomer at Hampton University in Virginia

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