Mars Science and Climate Change

Techniques pioneered by the European Space Agency (ESA) for use on Mars are set to have a very down to earth use here on planet Earth and beyond to the Icy moon Europa, circling the Gas Giant Jupiter as well as another Ice moon Titan, the biggest of Saturns Moons.

ESA’s Mars Express has aboard some pioneering radar experiment currently investigating the Red Planet and searching for any evidence of sub-surface reservoirs of water and ice.

The technology used by Mars express cannot be used directly here on earth, as the frequency of 5 Mhz used for Mars would quickly interfere with radio communications.

Experiments are currently underway to adapt the technology for use at 435 Mhz where the radar will not cause disruption to earth based communications.

So what are these experiments all about ?

In a boost for earth science research, funded by ESA’s General Studies Program, the new study has been dubbed the Advanced Concept for RAdar Sounder (ACRAS)

This technique has been proposed once before by ESA in the late 90’s, however at that time the technology was not available to filter out false signals. These false signals come firstly from the earths Ionosphere and then secondly from terrain outside the radar’s target area.

ACRAS appears to have found a way around this problem by the use of multiple radar beams, in this case 3 beams, each with slightly different properties, using the principles of the Doppler effect .

The Doppler effect is best demonstrated by the changing pitch of siren on a fast moving vehicle, as it first moves towards you then away from you.

This new study is meeting with success and opens the doors for even more precise instruments that could work around Earth. A satellite fitted with this type of radar could accurately estimate the ice sheet thickness of the Antarctic and other ice covered regions. The data coming back would reveal the three-dimensional internal structure of the ice sheets, the contours of the underlying terrain and give information right down to the bedrock. Watching how this changes over time will give climate scientists invaluable data.

Currently work such as this is largely done by expensive and difficult drilling programs.

As we all hear in the news day after day, melting ice from the polar regions is set to have a huge impact on climate change

The most recent example of this is the large scale break up of the Ross ice shelf in Antarctica.

The ACRAS study is set to conclude in October this year. Although a fully-fledged satellite mission is a long way off yet. Florence Hélière, the ESA study officer, says, “We hope to conduct an airborne test of the technique.” Source: ESA.

As you go out to gaze up at the night sky, looking at the prominent planets Mars and Saturn in the early evening and Jupiter late in the evening. Spare a thought for the hardworking scientists who have made it possible for this pioneering work to be done.

Not only could this make a real difference to our understanding of the effects of climate change here on the lovely blue green planet we call home, it could unlock the doors to the search for life in our own solar system.

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