Mars Wobbles Its Way Out Of An Ice Age

Andrew Follett | Energy and Science Reporter

Mars is warming so rapidly the entire planet is emerging from an ice age, according to new research published Friday in the journal Science.

The research concluded Mars goes through ice ages driven by processes similar to those responsible for Earth’s ice ages, especially long-term cyclical changes in the planet’s orbit and tilt.  These processes affect the amount of solar radiation planets receives at each latitude and change the amount of ice in the polar caps.

Climate models suggest orbital changes trigger feedback loops which cause the entire planet to rapidly cool or warm. The research used radar data collected by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Scientists believe the last Martian ice age lasted from 2.1 million to 400,000 years ago, but details have been vague. The new research estimates the last ice age ended 370,000 years ago and generated enough ice to cover the entire planet in a two-foot-deep layer.

“We found an accelerated accumulation rate of ice in the uppermost 100 to 300 metres of the polar cap,” Dr. Isaac Smith, the paper’s lead scientist, said in a press release. “Because the climate on Mars fluctuates with larger swings in axial tilt, and ice will distribute differently for each swing, Mars would look substantially different in the past than it does now. Furthermore, because Mars has no oceans at present, it represents a simplified ‘laboratory’ for understanding climate science on Earth.”

Research published Wednesday by the Royal Astronomical Society suggests global warming on other planets has made billions of planets unable to host life, making it a lot harder to find aliens. The research found planets in the “Goldilocks Zone,” the region around a star that has just the right conditions to find liquid water on a planet’s surface, are likely to be encased in stifling atmospheres. These thick atmospheres would likely cause a runaway greenhouse effect, which would boil away water and make the world too hot for life to develop.

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Tags : energy mars national aeronautics and space administration
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