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Heavy Rain shaped the Martian Landscape Billions of Years Ago: Study

The rain appears to have slowly changed over time, researchers said, noting that changes in the Martian atmosphere influenced how heavy the rain was, particularly the size of the raindrops.

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The Hubble Space Telescope took this close-up of Mars when it was just 88 million kilometers away. This image was assembled from a series of exposures taken over 36 hours. A new study posits that heavy rain may have once fallen on the Red Planet. (NASA). VOA
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Washington DC, May 21, 2017: Heavy rain shaped the Martian landscape billions of years ago, according to a new study.

According to researchers at the Smithsonian Institution and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, rain on Mars once carved river beds and created valleys much like rain on Earth has, and does. It no longer rains on the Red Planet, and the water that remains is mostly in the form of ice.

The rain appears to have slowly changed over time, researchers said, noting that changes in the Martian atmosphere influenced how heavy the rain was, particularly the size of the raindrops.

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When Mars formed 4.5 billion years ago, it had a much thicker atmosphere and higher atmospheric pressure. Pressure, researchers say, influences the size of raindrops.

A view of the surface of Mars taken at the "Intrepid" crater by the Opportunity Mars Rover on November 11, 2010. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell University)

A view of the surface of Mars taken at the “Intrepid” crater by the Opportunity Mars Rover on November 11, 2010. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell University)

They say that early in the planet’s history, the rain would have actually been more like fog, so it would unlikely have made much of an impact on the terrain. But as the atmosphere thinned over time, larger raindrops could form and were heavy enough to “cut into the soil” changing the shape of craters and leading to running water that could have carved valleys.

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Specifically, researcher say the atmospheric pressure on the Red Planet was about four bars, compared to one bar on Earth today. This means the raindrops could not have been bigger than three millimeters across. Over time the pressure dropped to 1.5 bars allowing for larger drops measuring about 7.3 millimeters across.

Water-carved valleys on Mars appear to have been caused by runoff from precipitation, likely meltwater from snow. Early Martian precipitation would have fallen on mountainsides and crater rims.

Water-carved valleys on Mars appear to have been caused by runoff from precipitation, likely meltwater from snow. Early Martian precipitation would have fallen on mountainsides and crater rims.

“By using basic physical principles to understand the relationship between the atmosphere, raindrop size and rainfall intensity, we have shown that Mars would have seen some pretty big raindrops that would have been able to make more drastic changes to the surface than the earlier fog-like droplets,” said Ralph Lorenz of John Hopkins APL.(VOA)

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NASA’s InSight Captures The Sound Of The Martian Wind

InSight landed on Mars on Nov. 26.

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InSight, Mars, NASA, Martian Wind
This Friday, Dec. 7, 2018 photo made available by NASA shows a view from the arm-mounted camera on the InSight Mars lander. The spacecraft arrived on the planet on Nov. 26. VOA

NASA’s new Mars lander has captured the first sounds of the “really unworldly” Martian wind.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory released audio clips of the alien wind Friday. The low-frequency rumblings were collected by the InSight lander during its first week of operations at Mars.

The wind is estimated to be blowing 10 mph to 15 mph (16 kph to 24 kph). These are the first sounds from Mars that are detectable by human ears, according to the researchers.

“Reminds me of sitting outside on a windy summer afternoon … In some sense, this is what it would sound like if you were sitting on the InSight lander on Mars,” Cornell University’s Don Banfield told reporters.

NASA, Insight, Martian Wind
NASA’s InSight spacecraft, destined for the Elysium Planitia region in Mars’ northern hemisphere, undergoes launch preparations at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. VOA

Scientists involved in the project agree the martian wind has an otherworldly quality to it.

Thomas Pike of Imperial College London said the rumbling is “rather different to anything that we’ve experienced on Earth, and I think it just gives us another way of thinking about how far away we are getting these signals.”

The noise is of the wind blowing against InSight’s solar panels and the resulting vibration of the entire spacecraft. The sounds were recorded by an air pressure sensor inside the lander that’s part of a weather station, as well as the seismometer on the deck of the spacecraft.

The low frequencies are a result of Mars’ thin air density and even more so the seismometer itself — it’s meant to detect underground seismic waves, well below the threshold of human hearing. The seismometer will be moved to the Martian surface in the coming weeks; until then, the team plans to record more wind noise.

NASA, Insight, Martian Wind
This is an illustration showing a simulated view of NASA’s InSight lander about to land on the surface of Mars. This view shows the underside of the spacecraft. VOA

The 1976 Viking landers on Mars picked up spacecraft shaking caused by wind, but it would be a stretch to consider it sound, said InSight’s lead scientist, Bruce Banerdt, of JPL in Pasadena, California.

Also Read: NASA’s InSight Lands Safely On Mars

The “really unworldly” sounds from InSight, meanwhile, have Banerdt imaging he’s “on a planet that’s in some ways like the Earth, but in some ways really alien.”

InSight landed on Mars on Nov. 26.

“We’re all still on a high from the landing last week … and here we are less than two weeks after landing, and we’ve already got some amazing new science,” said NASA’s Lori Glaze, acting director of planetary science. “It’s cool, it’s fun.” (VOA)