By Frédéric J. Pont
Planetary atmospheres are complicated and evolving entities, as mankind is quickly coming to grasp when trying to comprehend, forecast and mitigate human-induced weather switch. within the sunlight approach, our neighbours Venus and Mars offer awesome examples of 2 endpoints of planetary evolution, runaway greenhouse and lack of surroundings to space.
The number of extra-solar planets brings a much broader perspective to the difficulty: from hot "hot jupiters'' to ocean worlds, exo-atmospheres discover many configurations unknown within the sunlight approach, resembling iron clouds, silicate rains, severe plate tectonics, and steam volcanoes. Exoplanetary atmospheres have lately turn into available to observations.
This e-book places our personal weather within the wider context of the rigors and tribulations of planetary atmospheres. in keeping with state of the art study, it makes use of a grand travel of the atmospheres of alternative planets to polish a brand new gentle on our personal surroundings, and its relation with life.
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Extra resources for Alien Skies: Planetary Atmospheres from Earth to Exoplanets
Seasonal changes on Mars are stronger than on Earth, because Mars is more inclined on its orbit (25 degrees instead of 23 degrees) and the Martian year is longer (668 days instead of 365). The South pole gets very cold in the southern winter as the North pole in the northern winter. Temperatures dip below the freezing point of carbon dioxide, so the main constituent of the atmosphere starts to freeze out and fall as dry ice snow on the polar caps. Nothing comparable happens on Earth; water can condense into rain and snow, but water always represents a small proportion of the air’s composition.
Volcanoes spit out a vast array of gases, but the dominant ones are carbon dioxide and sulphur. In our planet, these gases do not accumulate in the atmosphere because they are recycled into the oceans or the ground; carbon dioxide is fixed into carbonate rocks, while sulphur dissolves in rain drops, producing “acid rain” that ends up in the oceans, ultimately finding its way back into the ground through ocean sediments. However, both these processes require water. With the water gone on our hot Earth, carbon dioxide and sulphur simply accumulate in the air.
This is a slow process, occurring over millions of years, but so is the loss of atmospheric gases into space. The balance between gases coming out of volcanoes and those leaking into space will set the amount of atmosphere our Martian planet will be left with, as well as its composition. As on Venus, it will mostly be carbon dioxide (CO2), because it is the main volatile constituent of volcanic fumes. With most of the atmosphere lost to space and only a trickle of volcanic gases to replenish it, the pressure at the surface of our planet is now only a hundredth of Earth’s atmosphere.