A newly discovered process may help explain a debated mystery on how land features on Mars are formed without significant amount of water on the Red Planet.
Levitation Caused By Boiling Water On Planet Mars
Researchers are already aware the the Martian surface has "mass-wasting" features that occur as a result of sediment being transported down a slope but debate on what forms them continues.
The new research found evidence suggesting that the levitation effect caused by boiling water under low pressures allows the rapid transport of sediments and sand across the surface.
In experiments conducted at the OU Mars Simulation Chamber, a special equipments that can simulate the atmospheric conditions on the Red Planet, researchers found that the thin atmosphere of Mars along with periods of relatively warm surface temperatures cause water that flow on the Martian surface to boil.
The boiling water is capable of moving large amounts of sands and other sediment that effectively levitate on the boiling water.
The findings suggest that relatively small amounts of liquid water that move across the Martian surface may form the geological features that characterize Mars such as large dunes and gullies.
Levitation May Occur In A Few Isolated Areas
Scientists nonetheless said that even if dust does levitate on planet Mars, the phenomenon will only occur in a few isolated areas.
"The key thing I wonder is whether there are very many environments that could have enough water to see these effects," said Bruce Jakosky at the University of Colorado at Boulder. "While gullies and the briny flows called recurring slope lineae appear wet, there is a chance they may actually be dry landslides.
The phenomenon does not happen on Earth and may shed light on similar processes that occur on other planets.
Based on their findings, researchers said that the effects of small amounts of flowing water on Mars in the formation of surface features may have been widely underestimated.
"Sediment levitation must therefore be considered when evaluating the formation of recent and present-day martian mass wasting features, as much less water may be required to form such features than previously thought," the researchers wrote in their study, which was published in Nature Communications on Oct. 27.
Further studies are still needed to investigate how water levitates on this arid world and missions such as the ESA ExoMars 2020 Rover may offer more information that can shed more light on planet Earth's closest neighbor.