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Boiling Water On Mars Levitates Sand

S u m m a r y:
Boiling water on Mars levitates large amounts of sand and other materials, suggest new findings published in the journal Nature Communications.

Boiling Water on Mars

Mars remains the focus of scientists who want to unravel all the layers of mysteries surrounding the Red Planet. Until now, no evidence has been found as to how Mars acquired its landscape despite the lack of large volumes of water—a question finally answered by a team of investigators from The Open University (OU) who has now shed light on the formation of Martian land features, and it has to do with boiling water and sand (and sediment) levitation.

“Whilst planetary scientists already know that the surface of Mars has ‘mass-wasting’ features — such as dune flows, gullies, and recurring slope lineae — which occur as a result of sediment transportation down a slope, the debate about what is forming them continues,” says lead author Dr Jan Raack.

The Kimberley formation on Mars; picture captured by NASA’s Curiosity rover. The dip in the strata in the front suggests a waterflow into a basin that predates the formation of the mountain. Photo Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

Simulating Sand Levitation

The thin atmosphere of Mars, measuring only around 0.7% of ours, coupled with periodically warm surface temperatures constitute conditions that violently boil surface water, which then displaces massive amounts of sand and additional sediment above the water, an effect that resembles sand being levitated. The Martian sand levitation was observed through experiments performed in the Mars Simulation Chamber, a specialised accommodation that simulates the atmospheric conditions present on Mars, available at OU’s Hypervelocity Impact (HVI) Laboratory.

This process would result in the formation of large dunes and gullies embellishing the surface of the Red Planet, a feature that differentiates it from Earth, as only small amounts of liquid water would do the job on Mars.

“Our research has discovered that this levitation effect caused by boiling water under low pressure enables the rapid transport of sand and sediment across the surface. This is a new geological phenomenon, which doesn’t happen on Earth, and could be vital to understanding similar processes on other planetary surfaces,” says Raack.

Source of Martian Liquid Water?

On the other hand, determining the origins of this water will require more observational studies, says Raack. The latter adds that more research should be conducted to find out how water levitates sand on Mars.


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