Levitating Sand on Mars: Not a Magic Trick, Just Pure Physics!

Khryss | Published 2017-11-17 06:31

Martian summer usually accompanies warm temperatures (duh?) up to 20°C. This melts some of the planet's ice deposits which, due to a thin atmosphere, just boils away in no time after being a liquid water.

Interestingly, Jan Raack at the Open University in the UK and his colleagues found that this phenomenon causes the sand to levitate and carves out deep gullies. The resulting pockets of water vapor is what launches the dust into air, turning them into mini hovercrafts.

They've designed a Mars-like conditions in a laboratory and put a Mars-like soil sample in there. And when added with water, as expected, it evaporated almost immediately. The evaporating water created a cushion beneath the sand particles, making it bubble up and hover on the air.

 “We saw in our experiments that wet sand pellets were somewhat ‘floating’ over the sediment,” Raack says. This only lasted for a few seconds but, again, this is just a lab-condition on Earth and being on the real Red Planet causes alterations. The floating is expected to last for up to a minute there.

And if the sand really does levitate there, Bruce Jakosky at the University of Colorado at Boulder says that it could probably occur only 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,” Jakosky says.

Unfortunately, looking into it on Mars would be difficult due to our current technologies' limitations. So, for now, perhaps we can just enjoy this seemingly magic trick!


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