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Balloon Mission by NASA May Lead to Improved Weather Forecasting

The waves play major roles in transferring energy from the lower atmosphere to the mesosphere

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The images of a thin group of seasonal electric blue clouds on the cusp of our atmosphere captured by a new NASA balloon mission may lead to improved weather forecasting, the US space agency has said.

Data from these clouds, known as noctilucent clouds or polar mesospheric clouds (PMCs), may help scientists better understand turbulence in the atmosphere, as well as in oceans, lakes and other planetary atmospheres, NASA said in a statement on Thursday.

The NASA long-duration balloon mission observed these clouds over the course of five days at their home in the mesosphere.

Scientists have just begun to analyse the photos captured by the mission, the statement added.

NASA
NASA balloon mission captures electric blue clouds. (IANS)

“From what we’ve seen so far, we expect to have a really spectacular dataset from this mission,” said Dave Fritts, principal investigator of the PMC Turbo mission at Global Atmospheric Technologies and Sciences in Boulder, Colorado.

“Our cameras were likely able to capture some really interesting events that we hope will provide new insights into these complex dynamics,” Fritts added.

NASA’s PMC Turbo mission launched a giant balloon on July 8 to study PMCs at a height of 50 miles above the surface.

For five days, the balloon floated through the stratosphere from its launch at Esrange, Sweden, across the Arctic to Western Nunavut, Canada.

During its flight, cameras on board the balloon captured six million high-resolution images filling up 120 terabytes of data storage — most of which included a variety of PMC displays, revealing the processes leading to turbulence, NASA said.

Noctilucent clouds coalesce as ice crystals on tiny meteor remnants in the upper atmosphere.

NASA
NASA’s PMC Turbo mission launched a giant balloon on July 8 to study PMCs at a height of 50 miles above the surface. Flickr

These clouds are affected by what is known as atmospheric gravity waves — caused by the convecting and uplifting of air masses, such as when air is pushed up by mountain ranges.

The waves play major roles in transferring energy from the lower atmosphere to the mesosphere.

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“This is the first time we’ve been able to visualise the flow of energy from larger gravity waves to smaller flow instabilities and turbulence in the upper atmosphere,” Fritts said.

“At these altitudes you can literally see the gravity waves breaking — like ocean waves on the beach — and cascading to turbulence,” Fritts added. (IANS)

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Scientists Create Map of Wind Circulation in the Upper Atmosphere of Mars

Scientists map winds in Mars' upper atmosphere for first time

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Mars
The new map of Mars winds helps scientists to better understand the workings of the Martian climate. (Representational image). Pixabay

Using data from NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft, researchers have created the first-ever map of wind circulation in the upper atmosphere of Mars.

The new map of Mars winds helps scientists to better understand the workings of the Martian climate, giving them a more accurate picture of its ancient past and its ongoing evolution.

“The observed global circulation provides critical inputs needed to constrain global atmospheric models,” said Mehdi Benna of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

“These are the same models that are used to extrapolate the state of the Martian climate into the distant past,” added Benna in the first paper published in the journal Science.

MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN mission) celebrated the five-year anniversary of its entrance into orbit around Mars on September 21.

Mission Mars
The winds observed in the Martian upper atmosphere are sometimes similar to what we see in global model simulations. (Representational image). Pixabay

The primary scientific goal of the mission is to study what is left of Mars’ atmosphere to determine how, in the distant past, an ocean-covered and potentially habitable Mars became the dry and desolate place it is today.

“The winds observed in the Martian upper atmosphere are sometimes similar to what we see in global model simulations, but other times can be quite different,” said Kali Roeten of University of Michigan.

“These winds can also be highly variable on the timescale of hours, yet in other cases, are consistent throughout the observation period, said Roeten in the second paper published in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Planets.

Upper atmospheric winds on Earth have already been mapped in detail.

Winds drive a series of processes in the atmosphere that can affect the propagation of radio waves, which are crucial for communications purposes for those on the surface, and the prediction of paths satellites will take in their orbit around Earth.

Mapping Martian winds, therefore, is a crucial step towards understanding characteristics of extraterrestrial atmospheres beyond what we know about processes on Earth.

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The upper atmospheric winds on both Earth and Mars are in the planets’ respective thermospheres, which are areas where temperature increases with height.

This discovery was the first detection of topography-induced gravity wave ripples in the thermosphere of any planet, even Earth. (IANS)