Scientists create Martian clouds on Earth

Researchers have recreated Mars-like conditions in a 3-story-tall cloud chamber in Germany.

Updated: Oct 08, 2013, 15:13 PM IST

Washington: Researchers have recreated Mars-like conditions in a 3-story-tall cloud chamber in Germany - adjusting the chamber`s temperature and relative humidity to match conditions on the Red Planet - to form Martian clouds on Earth.

Dan Cziczo, the Victor P. Starr Associate Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry at MIT, and his team conducted most of the study`s experiments during the summer of 2012 in Karlsruhe, Germany, at the Aerosol Interaction and Dynamics in the Atmosphere (AIDA) facility - a former nuclear reactor that has since been converted into the world`s largest cloud chamber.

The facility was originally designed to study atmospheric conditions on Earth. But Cziczo realized that with a little fine-tuning, the chamber could be adapted to simulate conditions on Mars. To do this, the team first pumped all the oxygen out of the chamber, and instead filled it with inert nitrogen or carbon dioxide - the most common components of the Martian atmosphere.

They then created a dust storm, pumping in fine particles similar in size and composition to the mineral dust found on Mars. Much like on Earth, these particles act as cloud seeds around which water vapour can adhere to form cloud particles.

After "seeding" the chamber, the researchers adjusted the temperature, first setting it to the coldest temperatures at which clouds form on Earth (around minus 81 degrees Fahrenheit).

Throughout the experiment, they cranked the temperature progressively lower, eventually stopping at the chamber`s lowest setting, around minus 120 Fahrenheit - "a warm summer`s day on Mars," Cziczo says.

By adjusting the chamber`s relative humidity under each temperature condition, the researchers were able to create clouds under warmer, Earth-like temperatures, at expected relative humidities.

The study has been published in Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets.