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Exploratour - The Atmosphere of Mars

Drawing of molecules in the atmosphere which create the greenhouse effect.
Click on image for full size

Warm and Cold

Warm and cold fronts may be more extreme on Mars than on the Earth because of the greenhouse effect. Usually the greenhouse effect helps a planet maintain an even temperature, especially as day turns to night. (Without the greenhouse effect, and an atmosphere, temperatures swing from 50 degrees to -50 degrees, as they do on the Moon).

As shown in the diagram, molecules serve as a trap of energy by absorbing energy from space, and re-sending the energy back into the atmosphere. A photon of energy can enter, but cannot easily find its way out again, somewhat like a pinball in a pinball machine. Thus molecules can keep an atmosphere warm long after the Sun has gone away.

When the atmosphere is thin, the way the atmosphere of Mars is, the greenhouse effect is reduced. It is hard to know now what this means in the atmosphere of Mars. More information from the atmosphere of Mars would help scientists learn more about what a reduced greenhouse effect means for the weather of Mars.

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ExploraTour - Looking at the World in a Different Light

Even though the sleeping man is no longer on the bed, you can still see where he was lying down. The heat from his body warmed up the bed sheets which are now radiating infrared light toward your eyes....more

ExploraTour - Looking at the World in a Different Light

All warm objects (not just people) radiate in the infrared. Warmer objects give off more infrared radiation. Very hot objects radiate other types of light in addition to infrared. Click on the picture...more

ExploraTour - Looking at the World in a Different Light

Your eye is a wonderful detector of visible light. Different frequencies of light produce different sensations in the eye which we interpret as colors. Our eyes detect light by using light sensitive components...more

ExploraTour - Looking at the World in a Different Light

Imagine you found a pair of special glasses that not only gave you telescopic vision but gave you the ability to see all forms of radiant energy. The universe in visible light contains all the familiar...more

ExploraTour - Looking at the World in a Different Light

This is a volcano on the island of Miyake in Japan. It has erupted, sending hot lava and ash into the air, a total of ten times. The time after one eruption until the next occurred was about twenty years...more

ExploraTour - Looking at the World in a Different Light

This is a picture of a galaxy in visible light. A galaxy is a large number of stars, some like our sun, some bigger, some smaller and all moving together through space. This galaxy is called Centaurus...more

ExploraTour - Looking at the World in a Different Light

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA