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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 Developing Technology For Human Missions to Moon, Mars

NASA said its series of crewed missions to Mars, planned to start in the 2030's and culminating in a surface landing, would be supported by the work it does on the Moon in the coming years

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NASA charts roadmap for human missions to Moon, Mars. Pixabay

Revealing its human explorations plans, NASA has told the US Congress that the agency is currently focusing on developing technologies and systems that enable a series of human and robotic lunar missions that are extensible to Mars.

The “National Space Exploration Campaign” that NASA submitted to the Congress on September 24 calls for human and robotic exploration missions to expand the frontiers of human experience and scientific discovery of the natural phenomena of Earth, other worlds and the cosmos, the US space agency said in a statement on Thursday.

The campaign has five strategic goals, including returning US astronauts to the surface of the Moon to demonstrating the capabilities required for human missions to Mars and other destinations.

NASA said it intends to transition from the current model of human space activities in low-Earth orbit to a model where the government is only one customer for commercial services.

The US space agency is building a plan for Americans to orbit the Moon starting in 2023, and land astronauts on the surface no later than the late 2020s.

NASA
The campaign has five strategic goals, including returning US astronauts to the surface of the Moon to demonstrating the capabilities required for human missions to Mars and other destinations. Flickr

A key component of establishing the first permanent American presence and infrastructure on and around the Moon is the Gateway, a lunar orbiting platform to host astronauts farther from Earth than ever before, NASA said.

Some elements of the Gateway already are under construction at NASA centers across the United States, including facilities in Ohio, Texas and Alabama, and at commercial partner facilities.

The Gateway will be assembled in space, incrementally, using the Orion spacecraft and SLS, as well as commercial launch vehicles. The first element, providing power and propulsion, will launch from Florida in 2022, NASA added in the statement.

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“The lunar surface will serve as a crucial training ground and technology demonstration test site where we will prepare for future human missions to Mars and other destinations,” NASA said, adding that by the late 2020s, a lunar lander capable of transporting crews and cargo will begin trips to the surface of the Moon.

NASA said its series of crewed missions to Mars, planned to start in the 2030’s and culminating in a surface landing, would be supported by the work it does on the Moon in the coming years. (IANS)